Champagne Campaign: Protecting the Name that Matters

A rosé by any other name wouldn’t taste as sweet. For centuries, winegrowers in a pocket of north eastern France–just 145 km from Paris–have embedded their rich soils with grape varieties that cannot be grown the same way anywhere else in the world.

But the grapes aren’t what is important. According to the Bureau du Champagne, USA, which is the American representative of the Comité Champagne, “the United States is one of the last countries in the world to not reserve the Champagne name exclusively for wines from Champagne.” For many, it’s a disgrace to a nation, its people, and its history.

Meryl Muldoon is one of Champagne’s biggest supporters. A Wisconsin native, Muldoon moved to Chicago two years ago to work as a Champagne specialist for Moët Hennessy USAHer job involves education, advocacy, and branding through the creation of unique food and Champagne pairings.

Muldoon says the French are responsible for the advancement and perfection of Champagne. The Champagne we know and love today is because of a series of tiny improvements made by the French along the way; they chose English glass that was fired by coal for their bottles, corks instead of wet rags, and created the concept of Champagne’s wire caging.

But what it means to bear the name Champagne is about more than scientific advancements. It’s also about history.

I was in a little grocery store in Fallbrook, California, and there was this $8 California sparkling that had the word ‘champagne’ on it,” she says.  “And for me, it’s frustrating because it perpetuates the idea that sparkling wine is one thing. They’re not giving the Champanois credit for hundreds of years of history and to trial and error.”

Today, this history continues to run rampant in the cities of Reims and Épernay, which are home to an abundance of Champagne houses with various capacities. Thirty eight meters below the French soil are cellars whose musty smell comes from their chalk-lined walls, which extend for an average of 8 km. The oldest of these cellars belong to the Maison Ruinart and date back to 1729. Ruinart’s chalk pits have a constant temperature of 11 degrees Celsius with a high humidity rate and low lighting. This creates the ideal environment that Ruinart’s entrepreneurs have desired since its beginning.

Founded by Nicolas Ruinart, it is the oldest Champagne house in the world. Ruinart was created following an edict under Louis XV in 1728, which authorized the transportation of wine bottles. Prior to this, wine could only be sold in casks, which were too large to maintain the sparkling sensation of Champagne. Ruinart sold 170 bottles of Champagne in 1730, but by 1789 that number had increased to 65,000 bottles.

Since then, Ruinart has become a prestigious name in the champagne industry. It attracts visitors from around the world and exports 35 percent of its production to foreign countries.

But the serenity and beauty that is echoed in the caves today masks their troubled past. From 1940 till 1944 France was under Nazi control. Governmental takeover by Germany also meant a takeover of the Champagne houses.

During World War II, the city of Reims was not bombed, but the region was quickly invaded. Mylène Gastard who is a guide at Ruinart says that Champagne was greatly desired by the German soldiers.

“The Germans, they didn’t destroy anything, but they really liked the Champagne,” Gastard says. “They didn’t steal much, but they fixed the bottom price so they could buy a lot of bottles of champagne at a very low price, and the houses of champagne were obliged to sell at that fixed price.”

A few houses were able to save some of their production by building walls to hide the bottles. But Ruinart’s caves were listed on the historic register since 1931, so the house could not make any changes without the Germans noticing.

“Ruinart sold all of its champagne during the second world war,” Gastard says. “That’s a pity because our house, being the oldest house of Champagne, we would like to have much older Champagne. But that’s all we have.”

Its oldest bottle might only be 50 years old, but the traditions and practices that Ruinart was established on are still maintained today. All of the production is done on Ruinart’s property, and they are able to produce 3 million bottles of Champagne per year. But their main goal isn’t to become the largest producer if it means sacrificing their traditions.

“Our aim is to provide a fine Champagne,” Gastard said. “We are not going to change the taste of our Champagne just to make it easier [to produce].”

Ruinart’s philosophy of quality over quantity is in line with the Bureau du Champagne’s emphasis on the exclusivity of sparkling wine from the Champagne region. Legal restrictions in France for creating this iconic beverage are stronger than anywhere else in the world. These laws include the use of just three authorized grapes–Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier–short pruned vines, limitations on juice extraction, minimum annual required alcohol levels and a minimum 15 months storage process of bottled wines prior to shipping.

For Champagne specialists such as Muldoon, this knowledge of history and legislation makes working in the country with less legal restrictions such as the U.S. a unique task to navigate.

“The minimum age of a vintage is 12 months plus an additional three months under cork,” Muldoon says. “Our brands–even Moet Imperial and Clicquot nonvintage–they spend two years, [every single bottle] spends two years, aging. And I guarantee that a California bottle does not follow those same regulations.”

Although U.S. restrictions on bubbly has increased in recent years, loopholes exist that allow sparkling wine from other areas of the world to be classified as Champagne. But perhaps worse, is that the loopholes also allow for genuine Champagne to be devalued and sectioned instead as sparkling wine.

But the real problem expands beyond the legal realm. The U.S. ranks in fourth place for the largest countries which Champagne is exported to, and Muldoon says the reasoning behind this ranking is cultural.

“The average American drinks ⅓ of a glass of Champagne in a year,” she says. “What does that tell you? It’s like a little celebratory toast at a wedding or it’s New Years. It’s totally cultural.”

In other countries, such as Italy and Japan, Champagne is being recognized for its properties and its potential in food pairings. But the U.S. has crafted a different image. “With Champagne, you have a specialized flute, and it’s considered expensive,” Muldoon says. “Yes, it’s a celebratory item. This is a  libation that can be consumed on special occasions. But what I believe, and what many people I’ve come across in the culinary scene here [believe], is truly that Champagne is one of the most versatile food-pairing wines. And you have to celebrate every day. Every day really is a celebration. I don’t care if it’s a Tuesday afternoon, and you’ve had a bad day at work. Have a glass of Champagne.”

She says that Champagne specialists and chefs in America are tasked with changing the perceptions of the American consumer. “It’s a pretty daunting task,” she says. “It’s not gonna happen overnight. But you know, that’s kind of what we’re here to do little by little. It’s one Champagne and food pairing at a time.”

In order for Champagne and the Champanois to gain their respect in the U.S. legally, they must first change the American ideas of the beverage. The most important way to do that is through education and food experiences, Muldoon says.

“Champagne is about more than just the flavor profile,” she says. “It’s not just about the texture of Champagne being good with things. Yes, the acidity of Champagne can cut through the fat of a fried chicken, whatever. So there is that straight-on flavor profile of the wine that is great with food. But an experiential form of it that you can have every day. You might not be able to purchase yourself a fur coat, but you can maybe purchase yourself a glass of champagne. It just enhances the experience overall. So approachable luxury, affordable luxury.”

Muldoon spends her time hosting various events throughout the Chicago area to educate locals on the versatility of Champagne. She believes that education is key in the process of bringing the U.S. up the standards of many advanced countries who are more knowledgeable about Champagne.

“It’s not just about educating the consumer, it’s also about educating the staff members of every restaurant that pours champagne,” she says.  “It’s about creating ambassadors every single day in different atmospheres and getting Champagne in front of people. It’s demystifying it because it’s for everybody and for every meal.”

A new adventure for my blog: Bubbly & Beauty

Bienvenue! I’m so excited to start sharing my beauty blogging experiences with you. As a beauty addict with a journalism background, I’ve been trying and critiquing beauty products for years. But it wasn’t until recently that I decided to use my professional blog as a place to share my knowledge and opinions with you.

Of course, beauty products weren’t enough. After spending six months living in Reims, France, I saw my passion for Champagne come alive. I’m interested in expanding my knowledge on Champagnes and sparkling wines, while also educating my readers on the legal restrictions of the industry.

I hope that you’ll find this new addition of my site both helpful and fun. After all, I can’t think of a more perfect pairing for bubbly than beauty. Merci beaucoup for going on this journey with me. Santé! 18519894_10213562837809527_4759824427833058176_n

À Bientôt, France

It took me 139 days to realize I had fallen in love. It took 4 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days to realize that I had been denying the truth all along. It was an unexpected revelation I had on my last evening in France. I was completely alone when it hit me that it was too late, that there was nothing I could do now to change the situation that I was in. It was something I had hidden from my closest friends, something I had hidden from myself. Time and time again I had denied the possibility of it, had even advocated against it. There was no way I could be in love. But as the sun took its place behind the sky, I looked up at the cathedral’s breathtaking architecture as its stain glass windows glistened under the fading light. And that was all it took–I was in love with Reims, France. My friend Daniella always said that Reims is the “greatest city in the world,” and as I’m sure she will tell you, I was an avid opponent of this idea. The past four and a half months have been a time where I’ve seen some of the world’s greatest cities, experienced moments that one one will ever understand, and felt emotions that I didn’t even know were possible to feel. The journalist in me just couldn’t accept the fact that Reims was (is) the “greatest.” There were too many variables, too many unexplored places in the world, too many “dents” in Reims to really grant it this “great” title. It just didn’t add up. But here I am: 139 days later. I took 11 flights, visited 8 countries and 17 cities, and rode in 16 blabla cars and 2 megabuses. I grew incredibly close to 15 people,  ate probably 20 cans of pringles and 40 apple sauce packets, walked home at 5:00 a.m. at least 4 times, and added 1,154 photos to my Facebook albums (sorry for the spam). Together, it all meant 1 incredible journey. A journey I’m not so sure I’m ready to say goodbye to, a journey that I will never forget.

These have been the best five months of my life.

Merci beaucoup:

1. My tiny studio apartment

Thanks for making me live in the tightest living quarters of my life. While I didn’t use my stove until May, the shower flooded into my hallway on numerous occasions, and the breakfast was sub par, your location was clutch. I made a lot of memories in the times I actually spent there. Even though there was a moment where I lost my keys for 2 weeks, the endless supply of wifi and heat made for ideal conditions.

P.S. Thanks for the awesome mirror pics.

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2. The plethora of boulangeries

Before I moved to France, I thought I would never get sick of a good baguette. It turns out that it’s actually possible to become very, very sick of baguettes. What made the boulangeries special was the relationships I was able to form with the owners who quickly learned my order and simply smiled at me even when they knew I was pronouncing things wrong.  You were there for me when I desperately needed a sandwich and some jus de pomme. I’ll never forget the time I walked home from a club with 3 of my best friends at 6 a.m. and you came in clutch by being open and selling us   fresh pain au chocolat.

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3. The cathedral

I’m still in awe of your beauty, and I think I will be forever. Notre Dame in Paris has nothing on you and pictures don’t do you justice. I think that I sometimes took you for granted, walking past you with too much of a rush to actual appreciate you. I envy the people who get to spend more time with you, but I am grateful I could admire your grace (even if you were partially covered in scaffolding and I couldn’t get great photos).

4. The champagne

To be honest, I don’t really think I can go back to a life where champagne isn’t a part of the daily routine. What used to be considered a luxury drink is now something that I will forever hold dear to my heart, something I will wish I could have as regularly as I did here. From the three houses I visited, I learned enough to officially consider myself a champagne snob. There’s no going back now, and I’ll long for the days where it was just a normal necessity to have champagne at school functions.

5. Sherlock’s

Oh Sherlock’s. Never in my life did I think (although I hoped) that I would find a How I Met Your Mother-esque bar where I would know the bartenders, chill out with my friends on the regular, and actually cry in the middle of when I had to say goodbye. You provided me with the most fun Valentine’s Day I’ve had in years, too many free drinks, and pretty solid embarrassing photos of my closest friends. Thanks for trusting me enough to let me DJ on multiple occasions. I’ll be sure to bring my new skills home with me.

6. The Vogue

Given the situations that occurred at the Vogue throughout this semester, one could argue that I should NOT be saying thank you. But here’s the thing, it was through the worst of times that I spent here that made me really appreciate 1) my life 2) my friends 3) the fact that it’s a lot easier to party in America. The awkward photos were plentiful and so were the lessons that I learned. I can’t really say that I will miss you, but when I write my autobiography one day I’m sure you’ll make a cameo.

7. Sciences Po

This is a tough one. There is so much to say, but yet such little ways to say it. While I wasn’t able to complete my bucket list of things to do inside Sciences Po, you still provided me with some really rad times. I’ll never get over the fact that water fountains don’t exist, but scheduled smoke breaks do. And I’ll always laugh at the absurdity of having numerous organizations that plan parties. And in total, complete honesty I’ll always be frustrated that I was “censored” for writing the truth (which made me all the more grateful for my journalism program at Mizzou).

But you changed my perspective on so many issues, on so many things that I was sure were incorrect that I have to say thank you. Thank you for making me do an interview completely in French, for giving us a free champagne tour, for the beautiful courtyard and the two hour lunch breaks. Thank you for learning my name, for inviting me into your community, and for making me realize that small schools can actually be beneficial.

My loyalty will always lie with Mizzou, but you won over a piece of my heart forever. I admire so much of who you are, what you’ve achieved, and how you will grow. The campus of Reims is by far the best, and I’ll proudly rep SciencesPo back home.

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8. The entire city of Reims

This is a big one (for obvious reasons). When I found out in November that I would be going to Reims, my first reaction was “what?” I had never heard of the town, and when I googled it I was a bit disappointed. But boy was I wrong. Reims (as you know from the beginning of this post) is home to me. I mastered its streets (especially Gambetta and des Moulins), become friends with the locals, and created a routine that I would be comfortable living through for the rest of my life. It’s hard to imagine waking up every morning without the ability to walk down your cobbled streets, to get frustrated at the ridiculous hours things were open, or to just look out the window and know I was living in a town of pure beauty.

(Thanks for also letting me drink in your streets).

I’m incredibly jealous of everyone who gets to spend more than 5 months getting to know you better than I did. But I’ll be back soon, I promise.

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9.  Carrefour

You get your own shout out because you are magnificent. You may just be a grocery store, but to an American missing her Targets, Walgreens, and Jewels,  you were a life saver. Thank you for providing me with a great supply of cheese, apple sauce, and 1 euro wine. It is actually kind of depressing when I think about how I went to Carrefour at least 4/7 days each week, but I have no regrets.

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10.  Trips

This is where I’d like to say thanks to Ryanair and the TGV. Your music was incredibly annoying, and I prayed for my life every time I made a trip. But without you two, I would never have gotten to experience all the wonderful places I saw.  (Also s/o to the cab drivers and metros who were utterly confusing, sometimes too expensive, and filled with wild creatures. You challenged me).

Thank you also to all the hostels who provided me with shelter, parties, and new friends. Some of the greatest people and most life changing moments came from my travels to countries other than France. I loved having absolutely no idea where I was going, what language people were speaking, and what adventures were in store for me.

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11.  The language and culture

When I applied for a semester abroad, I dreamed of being fluent in French. The sad truth is, however, that I did not become fluent. My french improved dramatically (seriously), but when you attend a Euro-American campus where everyone speaks fluent English it becomes difficult to adhere to the “strictly French” lifestyle.

Even so, I learned a lot. I was able to really appreciate the French language, its frustrations, and its beauty to a greater extent. Since moving to France, my love for French has only increased and there is no doubt it my mind that 1)it’s the best language in the world and 2) that I made the right choice in choosing to learn it.

I have a long way to go still, but I’m not going to give up. The culture of France is something that is truly admirable, something that has been preserved for years and will continue in its prestige. I also love my own culture and I know that someday I will be able to find the perfect balance between the two.

12. The people

And last, but obviously not least, the people.

Wow. Thank you doesn’t seem like enough. I met the most amazing people from all over the world. You made me have a restored faith in humanity, in our generation, and in the future. There is absolutely no way I would have gotten through this semester or have grown so much had it not been for you.

From the students of SciencesPo, to my professors, to the people I shared hostels with, met at bars, or just the random strangers who told me I was beautiful or helped me with my luggage: thank you.

I know I didn’t always agree with every single thing you did (like wear Abercrombie, make fun of America, make grammar mistakes), but when I look back on it, all of that is irrelevant. I would not be the person I am today writing this had it not been for each and every single one of you. Some of us shared a greater friendship than others, but I can promise you that I am here for you regardless. You are always welcome to visit in Chicago or wherever I happen to be.

A special shout out to my amazing exchange friends, to my fellow Mizzou classmates, to my Mizz N’ the Kids. Every day/night (even 4.22) with you made my life infinitely better. You saw me at all my highs and lows, and still decided to stay by my side. For that, I am eternally thankful. I hope you’re all at my future wedding with embarrassing stories and photos, with laughter and with tears.

And finally, thank you to my family and my professors who believed in me enough to get me to this point in my life. None of this would have been possible without out you, literally.

(oh and a MAJOR s/o to anyone who made it this far in the post. Props to you).

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And that’s it. That’s my last blog post from abroad.

The tears have been shed (and will probably continue to be shed). But I’m returning to the land of Portillo’s and chocolate milk, to the place that educated me, cared for me, and has shown me that my dreams really can come true. To the place where I have the freedom to say what I want, to publish stories that people might think are offensive, to wear short shorts or sweatpants for 30 minutes without being judge.

Because truly, it’s a party in the USA:

Why You Should Never Buy A Selfie Stick (In case you needed a reason…)

Before you dismiss this post as a bitter attitude toward the plethora of tourists who walk around Europe with selfie sticks, you need to realize that this is a story.

This is a story about Italy and France. This is a story about glory before succumbing to failure.

This is the story of how I ended up with my head in a CAT scan at the oldest hospital in Paris at 5:48 p.m. on a Sunday.

It was already May, aka month five of my study abroad experience. I thought I would leave Europe without a scratch (except, of course, the giant hole that had been shot through my savings account). Classes were complete, and I was on vacation in Italy with three of my best friends.

Life was good.

So good, that we let nearly 2,000 years of history, the amazing homemade pastas, and the break from France’s cold weather cloud our judgment. So good, that we decided to completely surrender ourselves into the tourist persona, to admit defeat just for the sake of a quality photo of the four of us without having to actually ask a stranger to take our picture.

And that’s when the point of no return occurred. With my friend Zazkia’s amazing bargaining skills, we were able to obtain the glorious selfie stick for just 5 euros (down from the original price of 15). We took turns holding the electric blue stick in our hand, joking that we looked ridiculous even though we secretly didn’t care. Suddenly even the most mundane traveling experiences became a game as we attached my iPhone 6 to the holder and began series of crazy “selfie stick” photos.

At this point, you should notice a key plot point: my iPhone 6. The phone that I had quickly become too lenient on since moving to Europe, my only contact with the world back home, the device in which I had used to annoy all 1,251 of my Facebook friends with by uploading an obsessive and excessive amount of photos (sorry not sorry). It had the best quality camera, and since it had been encased in an 80 dollar Otterbox, I figured it would be safe.

Key plot point #2: IT WOULD NOT BE

It was, for a short amount of time. But by the time we made it to Pisa, Italy (aka the home of the leaning tower) the selfie stick was already malfunctioning and my phone had been dropped a good number of times. But being the still somewhat naive 21 year olds that we all are, we kept going.  The Otterbox was doing it’s job and the photos we had taken were pretty badass:

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We arrived back in France safely and joked about all the photos we would take on our next trip in just a week. We already had it figured out: selfies in front all of Athens’ landmarks and selfies alongside the beaches. It was going to be the perfect continuation of our selfie stick adventures.

That is until I went to send a selfie to my sister back in the States and dropped my iPhone, just one foot in the air. Yes, just ONE FOOT. The salesman who sold me my Otterbox told me its “army strength” casing would protect my phone from heights up to six feet. Again, SIX FEET. I had walked around looking like a nerd with a giant phone case for six months only because I thought it would prevent my phone from breaking. As I sat in my tiny studio apartment crying to my sister about my “biggest nightmare” coming true, I realized I could have been looking a lot cooler and had 80 more dollars to spend on something else.

And that’s when I realized that karma had hit me. I’m not exactly sure if it was my decision to purchase a selfie stick despite knowing I would be shamed by the locals around me. It could have also been the fact that France felt like I was cheating on it with Italy (I might have said I wish I lived there instead a few times…). But it definitely, 100 percent, was not because I was dumb and should have taken better care of my phone…

Either way, I ended up spending two hours online chatting with the folks at Apple Support back in California. This is where I give a huge S/O to Kenny who literally was my knight in shining armor. His sassy comments and reassurance that I would be able to fix my phone was the only reason I was able to keep it together while embarking on what would be the four darkest days of my study abroad experience thus far.

Key plot point #3: I never realized how dependent I had become

My iPhone doesn’t work in France. Instead of paying for an international plan, my parents bought me a little burner phone from France that I would use to do basic things like call sources for interviews or text my friends that I would meet them soon. Most of the time, it’s hard to find public wifi in France, and so my iPhone was essentially useless.

The bright light at the end of the tunnel? I learned that not having a phone was actually kind of nice. I didn’t have to worry about getting it stolen, I didn’t feel the need to be in contact with everyone all of the time, and I realized that I could really avoid a lot of things/people when all I had to say was “sorry, I don’t have a working phone.”

Key plot point #4: Then I realized I was taking a trip to Greece

What was the point of taking over 1,000 photos during all my other trips if I couldn’t finish strong? I needed to get my phone fixed–I needed to go to Paris.

Here’s the thing about Paris: it’s a great city. Honestly, it’s grown on me a lot. So much about Paris is really awful, but there are definitely parts of it unlike any other place in the world. It’s still able to woo and charm even the most hard-headed haters with its beauty and magic. But that didn’t mean I wanted to go back. I’ve visited Paris nine times this semester, and every time I’ve gone I’ve felt incredibly stressed out. It’s a city that is over-stimulating, and after 10 days away from home I really just wanted to spend a few days resting in good ole Reims. But unlike my hometown in America, Apple stores in France are not every 15 miles, and so, to Paris it was!

Key plot point #5: Apple in France is NOT Apple in America

I wonder what the kings and queens of France would think if they knew there would be an Apple Store next to the Louvre. Seriously. You have this amazing piece of history filled with other amazing pieces of history (WHADDUP, MONA) and literally a 5 minute walk away is an Apple Store, a Starbucks, and a McDonald’s–it’s pretty hilarious (also slightly sad).

But it was the only Apple store I knew of so I wondered around inside the two-level store until I was finally able to make an appointment. Two hours later, I was sitting across a wooden table from two Apple employees who didn’t believe my story. They told me I would have to pay 120 euros if I wanted my phone fixed.

And this, my friends, is why I love France.

If I had been in America, my phone would have been covered by Sprint. Again…I am NOT in America…and so, the employees of Apple said they wouldn’t cover it. But luckily, France’s reputation of having beaucoup de flirty men is pretty accurate, and as soon as I smiled and explained that I was just an exchange student with only one month left in France who “really really really needed my phone,” I was signing forms to confirm that I would be getting a brand new iPhone 6 for 0 euros.

At this point in the story, I was feeling pretty good. I may have spent 10 euros getting to Paris, but it was worth it when I ended up with a better updated phone than I had before (for FREE). By the time I left the Louvre, it was 8 p.m. and it really seemed useless trying to get a ride back to Reims. I’m fortunate enough to have friends who just got an apartment in Paris and were nice enough to let me spend the night with them.

Key plot point #6: I’m not very perceptive first thing in the morning

Being a Parisian apartment, the owners had to find interesting ways to work with the space they were given. They built a loft bed that–in my opinion–is a tad close to the ceiling. Can you see where this is going?

After a night’s sleep, I woke up and completely forgot how close I was to the ceiling. An immediate smack on the top of my head left me dizzy and panicked.  I had never felt so much pain in my head, and knew that this wasn’t something I should take lightly.

Still, I was a bit scared of having to go to an emergency room in France. I didn’t have any of my insurance documents with me, and I wasn’t exactly knowledgeable about how advanced the French health system was. I googled “hospital” but the one we walked to turned out to be a school for young children (Thanks, France). We eventually decided that I was overreacting and so we put off going to a real hospital.

Key plot point #7: It probably isn’t a good sign when you can’t see out of one eye

We sat along the Seine and while my friends admired its beauty, I sat in agony. My head was still spinning but by now my vision had started to blur. There I was sitting in one of the most beautiful spots in Paris unable to really see it. I immediately knew I needed to get to a hospital. We walked our way toward the hospital where I just assumed they would speak English based on the numerous employees in American hospitals who are bilingual.

I was wrong (this is a reoccurring theme). Flashbacks to 10th grade French hospital vocab played in my mind. Luckily, Mademoiselle Michigan really taught me well because I was able to get the help I needed. At first the doctor laughed at my stupidity, but when he checked my eyes he immediately sent me for a CAT scan. And that was it. That’s how I ended up with head in a French hospital’s CAT scan machine.

Fortunately, my results came back normal. The doctor prescribed me a series of drugs (really, I don’t understand why) and gave me the pictures of my skull as a souvenir (I guess I’ll keep them?). The only good part was that it was 100 percent free and once again I was grateful to France and its people.

Moral of the story: life happens. Whether you’re in America, France, or some tiny island, life will catch up with you. It’s about how you deal with life’s occurrences that really shape the amount of learning and growing that you achieve.

You probably think the connection between my head injury and the selfie stick is a bit exaggerated–and I agree. But the point is, you never know how your split-second decisions will affect your life on the larger scale. I was very lucky to have everything work itself out, but one thing is for sure: I will not be taking the selfie stick with me anymore.

If you only had 10 days in Spain…

When I flew to Paris in January, I hadn’t slept in 24 hours. I was leaving the people I love for 5 months, and I had no idea what to expect.

Two months later, I was flying back to Paris again. But this time, I had 3 hours of sleep, a lot less money in my bank account, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the things I knew and loved about France.

I had just spent 10 days in Spain (and “Catalonia” for everyone who thinks that argument holds value), and while I desperately tried to relax and enjoy my time, I couldn’t help but look at the journey from a journalist’s eye.

A lot of newsworthy things happened, and I learned a lot of valuable lessons. So here it is (a bit late, but still relevant): How to do a 10-day trip throughout Spain as told by a 21-year-old journalist whose knowledge of the Spanish language is minimal beyond gato and perro.

Do take a 15-hour megabus ride

                 We decided that busing it from Paris to Barcelona was worth only having to pay 20 euros. We later discovered that we may have been wrong (thanks, old man in front of me) but overall, it left us with some interesting experiences like: stopping at random French gas stations, learning to sleep in awkward positions next to strangers, and priceless additions to our twitter feeds:

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My piece of advice:  Just because you think you know where the megabus station is located in Paris, you probably do not. And just because you consider yourself a relatively healthy person, you’re probably still not in shape enough to run the last 5 blocks with a giant backpack. You will show up 3 minutes after the bus was supposed to leave, and the bus driver will be very angry at you for the remainder of your very long journey.

Do stay at hip hostel and befriend your fellow hostel mates

                   I wouldn’t have considered myself to be the type of person who would choose to stay in a hostel, but Spain changed my views. My trip would not have been as educational, crazy, inspiring, or enjoyable had it not been for the hostels where I stayed. As previously mentioned, my Spanish is very limited so it was great knowing we had permanent tour guides in the hostel staffs. But the most important thing was the people we met (you know who you are). You taught me so much, even if it was just that you are all great people who know how to live it up.

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My personal advice: With good company, comes a few bad experiences. Be aware that living in a room with random strangers has the potential to go sour quickly. Sometimes, your hostel mates will drink too much and ruin your entire room–don’t ask. (But honestly, it’s a risk you should take).

Do Not think you’re getting a good deal when you see a 3-course meal advertised for 9 euros

                Amidst searching for food close to the beach in Barcelona, we fell for a common tourist trap: signs for tapas, paella, and dessert for 9 euros. The atmosphere was great–cozy heat lamps under cute white tents–the food, was not. But the most disappointing moment came when our waiter finally dropped off the check and we saw the giant sangrias we were all sipping on were 11 euros each (so much for our deal).

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My personal advice: pick a real restaurant, pay the full price, read a physical menu. It might seem illogical to your food-deprived, tired from walking the streets of Spain body, but I promise you’ll be happy in the end. And if you’re not? Well, you know where you can buy a giant sangria.

Do Not Eat churros in Madrid

               I spent a lot of useless money on our 10 days of travels, but buying a churro was by far the worst decision I made. I can’t say I’m the best person in the world to judge a good churro, and I’m aware that my autobiography will probably be titled “great expectations.” That being said, there are better ways to experience the wonderful city of Madrid. The churros were subpar, the restaurant was crowded, and you’re ultimately left with a cup of melted chocolate that you have to awkwardly sip or chug to “fit in.”

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My personal advice: Head over to El Madrono to experience a flavored liquor in a shot glass made of chocolate-dipped waffles. It’s the better way to drink chocolate.

Do visit famous clubs like Razzmatazz and Pacha

                The historic sites were impressive, but the clubs in Spain were by far the most memorable. If you’re trying to be a budget-conscious backpacker, you might skip out on the clubs after hearing about their 17-20 euro entrance price. Don’t. If there’s one thing the Spanish people know how to do it’s party, and the big clubs are a necessary component to experiencing that culture.

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My personal advice: As cliched and “so 2011” YOLO is, it’s pretty applicable when it comes to the club scene. Even if you don’t consider yourself a “clubber,” go solely to be part of the pure insanity inside. You’ll leave with stories you may (and may not) want to repeat.

Do spend 1 euro (but let’s be real, more like 5 euros) at Taco Bell in Madrid

              When I decided to spend half of my trip to Spain with my brother, Marty, I didn’t think he would take me to Taco Bell. I’ll admit it–every now and then, I’ll enjoy the casual Taco Bell taco (no shame). But when you’re in places with such great food like Spain, Taco Bell wasn’t necessarily my first choice. Yet what resulted was glorious and the perfect opportunity for a journalist to people watch.

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My personal advice: Get there early. We had to stand with our trays full of 6 beers and 6 tacos each awkwardly amidst Madrid Taco Bell lovers. The best part is that you don’t need to know any Spanish to enjoy this little luxury. You simply have to walk up to the counter, say “Taco Tuesday,” and await for the best 1 euro you’ve ever spent. And while you’re at it, take the opportunity to chat with the locals who have to touch shoulders with you anyway.

Do visit Ibiza

      If I had a euro for every person who told us we were going to Ibiza at the “wrong time,” I would have been able to buy a lot of more beer/taco combos. But here’s the thing: the only thing wrong about those people saying we were going at the “wrong time” is that they were wrong! Go to Ibizia in the summer, in the winter, on a weekend when you’re incredibly bored, for you birthday, to elope, for whatever. JUST GO. It was stunning, tons of fun, and effortlessly flawless.

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My personal advice: I realize that I’m not doing a very good job of remaining objective,  but I have no regrets. Ibizia will always have my heart. I have no real advice to give here.

Do not let anyone tell you a trip to Spain isn’t worth it

                Living out of a backpack and sharing a room with six other people for 10 days was definitely stressful. At times, I wanted to give up and I truly thought there was zero hope for my sanity. (when in reality, all I really needed was a shower and a few shopping sprees–muchas gracias, Ibiza). But the memories–of traveling with my brother,  of riding the Barcelona metro for hours without ever actually reaching a destination (Julia Reed), of falling asleep on the beach atop rocks–made everything worth it. I wouldn’t trade the lost euros, the sore feet, the puking hostel mate, or the pure frustration for anything.

It wasn’t “Sprang Braaaaak, YOLO 2015”. It wasn’t PCB. It wasn’t a week trying to hide my greek letters.

But it was better.

The Most Foreign Concept of Studying Abroad in France

(If you’re looking for a blog post about fun adventures and funny concepts, this isn’t it. But, for your viewing pleasure, I’ve attached my “iconic study abroad photos” at the bottom of this post).

I don’t remember the last time I had to sit still.

Two weeks ago, I moved to France to follow my dream: to continue my education more than 4,000 miles away from the place where people bleed black and gold and scream MIZ or echo ZOU.

And since then, I have run into some pretty foreign concepts including, but not limited to:

1. The lack of public water fountains

This one really gets me. I feel dehydrated. I’ve spent some serious time searching the hallways of SciencesPo trying to find a water fountain without success. I’ve found plenty of alcohol, though, so that’s something.

2. The lack of crunchy peanut butter.

I have no words. Mom and dad, please mail me some.

3. The small student population

I didn’t go to a stereotypical American high school like you see in the movies. In fact, I graduated still uncertain of several of my 600 classmates’ names. There wasn’t this idea of everyone knowing everything. Of serious gossip. Something scandalous might have happened and people would have talked, but that’s it. It was old news within a day. We got over it because our lives were constantly moving on to bigger and better things. Honestly, it’s bizarre to me. So when we were told that there would be a total of 300 students, I wasn’t exactly sure how to react. Mizzou has 30,000.  300 is 1% of 30,000, right? Close enough?

4.  Everything is so serious

So far, I’ve been called out on numerous occasions for being “too happy.” I didn’t think that was possible until arriving here. My professor joked on the first day of class that I was “the only student he’d ever seen smiling in their ID photo.” One point for team USA, right?

The Struggle is Real

But what I’ve struggled with the most is the abundance of free time. Everywhere I look, everyone is just chilling.

And I’m not saying they don’t work, because they do. A lot. But what I can’t grasp is the idea of  free time. I peer outside my classroom window to a quad full of students smoking in frigid temperatures and think to myself “It’s freezing! Run as fast as you can from one door to the other and hope you don’t get frostbite!” But they’re like, “Nah, man. It’s fine.”

But it’s about more than student habits. It’s the whole culture. The electricity store tells me to turn in my form “when it’s convenient.” I’m starting to think that nothing is ever open (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run to get something just to find the store closed). Taking two hours for lunch and getting tipsy at noon is just another part of life. Classes end by 5 and suddenly I’m supposed to spend the remainder of the day doing whatever I please.

Literally, whatever. Marathons on Netflix? Totally cool. Drinks down the street with friends? Great! Hours and hours of homework? If you want! Discussions on the meaning of life? But, of course!

And so the journalist inside me is like WAIT. WHAT? HOW? I keep staring down at my blank agenda thinking I’m most certainly missing a meeting or an assignment or a deadline. But I’m wrong. I don’t have a 500 word story, flawless and fact checked due in 30 minutes. I don’t have rehearsal to run to or a meeting about Greek week to attend. I don’t have to balance three jobs with hours of classes and millions of organizations.

But it’s not just me. I came here with 6 other journalism students from MU, and all of us are frantically wondering the same thing. We waste our time thinking about ways to occupy it. We’ve become dependent on social interaction, and the constant checklist that’s been wired into our DNA.

I have time to sit in my apartment and stare at the blank, white walls. (But not the same blank space that TSwift is talking about).

And I’m not gonna lie, I kind of love it.

France is great. It’s better than I imagined, better than I’d ever want it to be. I came here thinking I’d improve on my French, and spend a lot of time partying without learning too many things. But in this short amount of time, I’ve realized that I have a lot to learn. And the even better part is that the French can teach me. While I think the concept of actually having free time will take some time to get used to, I think I’ll be a better person in the long run.

There will always be things that frustrate me, and things I will desperately miss from home (mostly my dog, peaches):

But if I move back home in June with the understanding of what’s important in life, with the idea of how to take a moment to realize life’s little pleasures, to just say “fuck it” then I think it’ll all be worth it.

P.S. I’ve already started to learn

Alright, here you go:

I’m Moving to France

It wasn’t Madeline and her yellow hat, poodles and their fancy haircuts, or berets and French fashion statements. It wasn’t the promise of baguettes and Nutella, fresh cheeses, or even chocolate moose. It wasn’t about the La Tour Eiffel, La Louvre, or Moulin Rouge. It wasn’t even about the fact that I couldn’t write the upside down question marks for Spanish class in middle school (okay, maybe a little). It was about the culture, the language, and the lifestyle—it was about discovering what I knew was a part of me and what I knew always would be.

Photo taken from: steed.bangordailynews.com
Photo taken from:
steed.bangordailynews.com

I’ve loved everything about the French language since second grade, but it wasn’t until August of 2008 that I was able to learn it. I still remember my first day of French class. My teacher had given my class a list of French words and phrases to memorize. I became overwhelmed at the daunting task of memorizing a foreign language, but also delighted at the challenge of finally learning what I’d been waiting years to discover.

My junior year I took French History and French Art History. We spent the days learning about Louis XIV, Napoleon, and Voltaire. I fell in love with the works of Monet, Cézanne, and Degas. It was through this year in my French education that I realized I wanted my experience with French to be more than just grammar exercises and oral exams. I wanted to understand France, the history, culture, and what it means to be French.

Since that moment, I’ve soaked up every bit of French imaginable. Whether it’s subscribing to a daily French instructional email, watching Disney classics in French, or enjoying a simple conversation with MU’s French Club, I’ve learned to make French a part of my everyday life.

I came to MU uncertain of where my passion for French would lead me. I grew up in a Chicago suburb, and I made the move to Missouri specifically for the journalism school. I started taking French during my first semester and fell in love with the program. I knew that MU would provide me with the resources to become the best possible French speaker, so in the spring of 2013 I officially enrolled as a dual degree student in Journalism and French, and haven’t regretted my decision since.

This past September I applied for a study abroad exchange program in Paris, France. I submitted my application and hoped for the best.

But just four days later, I received an email informing me that the program would no longer be in Paris. It had been moved to the city of Reims, the place where most of France’s kings were coronated and the champagne capital of the world.

While I was excited at the idea of popping some bubbly in such a historically rich city, I couldn’t help but wonder if this city was the right place for me.

But then I did some research and this is what I found:

Photo taken from: http://huongrozsa.blogolj.net/
Photo taken from: http://huongrozsa.blogolj.net/
Photo taken from: www.redbubble.com
Photo taken from: http://www.redbubble.com

And I realized that this surprise plan would be even better. It would be a challenge. I didn’t know much about Reims, but as the first group from MU to study there, we will have the opportunity to pave the pathway for future students. We’ll be able to seek out the untold stories, and write about this cities intricacies. And isn’t that what journalism is all about?

Photo by Yves Nevejans on Flickr
Photo by Yves Nevejans on Flickr

There are many different places and events that might impact me the most during my time in France. It may be an early morning stroll, a late night class, or the coffee shop where I’ll study for my first exam. And it quite possibly could be the baker at the local boulangerie, the neighbor upstairs, or one of my professors. But it will definitely be the experience. It will be the memories, the life lessons, and the friendships. It will be knowing I found a part of myself, knowing that I found a second home.