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

An open letter to the Missouri School of Journalism

 

IMG_5024

They say a cat has nine lives.

I’m unaware of who “they” are, but I’m confident that students at the Missouri School of Journalism are required to have more like 100 lives. And any lost lives must replenish every year.

If we’re being completely honest (which, I mean, I should be because I’m a journalist), there’s a very real part of me that is surprised I’ve made it to this point; I survived the Missouri School of Journalism.

The 2015 NewsPro-RTDNA survey of the country’s top journalism schools ruled MU as the best of the best. It cited:”If you really want to know what your field is like, go to Mizzou. They throw you in head first, and you learn quickly whether you can swim. No sugar-coating, no sick days, no excuses. In many ways, it’s actually much tougher than being in the real world.”

As I embark on this mysterious “real world” and leave the apparent “fake world” I’ve been living in for 22.5 years, I can’t help but reflect on my time as a member of this arguably crazy, but out-of-this world journalism school (which, BTW, told me I couldn’t use that phrase as a headline on a feature about outer space).

A few things to note:

  • There are people out there who are going to read this and say I cheated because I left Columbia for a year. But here’s the thing:
    • A T-shirt used to hang in the window of a clothing store downtown Columbia. It read: “Leaving college after four years is like leaving the bars at midnight.”
    • It’s July 2016, and I’m leaving MU after only three years. That’s like leaving the bars at 11.

 

To my beloved alma mater (it’s still weird to say that),

The past four years have been the most vigorous and demanding four years of my life. And to quote ( but also miss quote — GASP!) Mean Girls, I feel like I’ve been personally victimized by the Missouri School of Journalism (for the readers, here’s your chance to raise your hand if you have been too).

2016-05-19-1463676615-8904791-tumblr_inline_nz4h9f8yif1qcaw8h_500

From the moment we first met (s/o to my high school choir teacher, Mrs. Marianetti, for the introduction), I was skeptical. A school in the middle of Missouri sounded like a pretty terrible option for a Chicago girl yearning for life on the East coast. I mean, why would the world’s best journalism school exist in a city with a population of just over 100,000? It didn’t help that I first witnessed the beauty of your campus in some not-so-stellar circumstances: 98 degree weather and sidewalks that were covered in cicadas. Yuck. 

Luckily, I learned a very important lesson that day in June 2011. Skepticism should be your first instinct, but don’t let any preconceived notions deter the facts. I walked into the Columbia Missourian’s newsroom to find an electric energy that the other 10 schools I applied to were lacking. I was hooked.

When we decided to take our relationship to the next level in the fall of 2012, I sat in Fisher Auditorium and watched as my professor wrote a single sentence on the board: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

One sentence changed my entire outlook on the world. It’s not that I read these words and suddenly became a terrible human who doesn’t trust anyone, but they paired well with the next three years of college where I’d have to learn to abandon a lot of things I held dear and true for most of my life. I had to adapt. 

One of those things was the Oxford comma. My love of grammar started in third grade when my teacher, Mrs. Car, made my class diagram sentences. I’m going to note that this is the same point in my life where I started to hate math (her Magic T’s were torture). For the next 10 years of my life, the Oxford comma was GOLDEN. I never understood why an argument to remove it even existed. The Oxford comma just made sense. 

the-oxford-comma_52c855ed979ed_w1500

But you had much different plans in store for me. Not only did you remove my best punctuation friend from my skill set, but you also forced me to fail papers for misspelling a name in J2100 (FYI I would have received an A on that paper if your grading wasn’t so cruel), spend 12 hours out of my comfort zone on an eco-village, and memorize an absurd amount of communication laws.

I spent two semesters trying to master disciplines outside the written word. I took some pretty-OK photographs:

IMG_0014

(Humor me)

But also truly didn’t deserve an A on this Photoshop assignment:

puppyfield_toned

(Goodbye, career in design. Hello, being able to read between the guidelines so that your project is technically correct).

I, along with the hundreds of other journalism students who are daring enough to devote four years of their life to you, saw trials and triumphs. I learned that crying over one F wasn’t going to solve anything (and that nearly everyone else had also received an F on an assignment at some point in their four years.) 

Instead, I chose to work harder. I took my time in writing down proper names while reporting and read them over a few extra times before turning my stories in. Instead of being upset about my multimedia skills, I worked on them and saw a potential to really refine my passion for the written word.

My emphasis in magazine editing didn’t come without its struggles. But as I spent time away from MU for an entire year, I learned just how valuable my education had been and would continue to be. As a student at the Missouri School of Journalism, I not only had access to the best equipment and facilities, I also had some of the greatest professors. They cared about seeing me succeed and making sure I understood the material. They were tough, but they gained my respect.

The skills taught at the Missouri School of Journalism aren’t taught anywhere else in the world. That’s because it’s the one educational institution for journalism where students are treated like working professionals. It’s about more than attending a few lectures and studying for exams. It’s devoting any and all of your free time to your craft. It’s about seeing journalism’s role in the world and striving to make that world a better place. 

From day one, a legacy is expected of you. You can either achieve and advance that legacy or bring it down. Some of the hardest working, honest, and forward-thinking people I’ve ever met are graduates of this school. And I’m honored to now consider myself among them.

If I had to do it all over again, I would do it exactly the same. And I know that sounds cheesy and picture perfect, but it’s the truth. And the truth, my friends, is what we aim for. But in typical journalism fashion, feel free to fact check that statement with me a few years from now. I think (and hope) that answer will be the same.

MIZ

Sincerely,

Mary Kaleta

P.S.

When I made the decision to attend MU back in May of 2012, I had a lot of haters from back home. People told me that I was “making a big mistake” and that I’d “never be successful if I went to school in Missouri.” I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve heard “You should have stayed in Chicago” or “You know it’s spelled like misery for a reason.” Even today, four years later, I still get comments like “IF you get a job in journalism.”

And to those people I have only one thing to say: Thank you!

Thank you for the extra motivation. Ask most journalism students and they’ll tell you they didn’t go in to journalism because of the money or the plethora of available jobs. I chose journalism because I full heartedly believe in the craft. I believe in the purpose of journalism and its role in democracy. I believe in journalism because I believe in correctly used hyphens, memorizing AP Style, and then breaking the rules and supporting the Oxford comma. Thank you for the doubt. Thank you for letting me work hard to achieve my dreams.

 

I spent the first seven weeks of summer eating fried pickles

picklesfinals
These pickles from Billiards on Broadway stole my heart

 

The headline says it all.

When I moved to Missouri from Chicago in 2012, I didn’t have high expectations. And that’s saying a lot because I certainly am known for expecting too much.

I was well aware that the closest Apple store was nearly two hours away, that I wouldn’t ever be able to eat good pizza, and that the closest I’d come to a skyscraper would be Columbia’s Tiger Hotel.

But 18-year-old me was pretty naive. The only time in four years I needed an Apple store was in France,my pizza void was filled by Gumby’s (passive voice, I know) on numerous occasions, and Columbia’s constant struggle with building high-rise student housing options would prove to be enough of a hassle that I wouldn’t miss tall buildings.

Luckily, Missouri had its ways of surprising me. One of those ways was an introduction to fried pickles. I’m sure there are places in Chi-town where one can find these delicious treats, but I’ve never bothered to check because it just felt wrong eating them that far north. Since the first moment I tried fried pickles, I’ve been in search of a list of places to eat them. Even in a city as overpopulated with journalists as Columbia, no one had dared to come up with a ranking of the city’s fried pickles.

So I did.

For seven weeks, I took advantage of my time as an editor for Vox Magazine and ate as many fried pickles as I could. And even though I’m slightly ashamed of the number I ate (my friend Paul told me it was unhealthy), I can rest my head at night knowing that I did it all in the name of quality journalism.

I ate some great pickles and some truly nasty ones. I visited parts of Columbia I hadn’t ventured to over the course of four years, met some interesting people, and now feel that I have enough street credit to become a self-proclaimed fried pickle expert.

Think you’ll agree? Read the ranking below, which includes links to my more in-depth reviews.

The definitive guide to Columbia’s best fried pickles

Two months back: aka how I transitioned to life again in the U.S. of A.

Before I left for France, I did a lot of research. Like a lot. I perused too many websites that claimed to offer me esteemed advice in order to prepare me for my time abroad. I had everything figured out.

Biggest advice: throw aside all those flashy, tight, and brightly colored clothes in your closet. And while packing was a lot easier (even if it did feel like I was packing for a five month funeral for my social life), I would have saved bunches of money while in France if I had just brought my favorite items instead of trying to be someone I wasn’t.

But what’s important here isn’t that I was forced to live five months in a wardrobe I didn’t love. It’s about a key lesson I learned the hard way:

No amount of self help books, travel guides, or advice from so-called friends can actually prepare you for the real deal. And here’s why:

In May when I returned from a trip to Italy, I received some pretty eye-opening (and quite frankly, pretty rude) advice from a friend. He told me that I would “never be French.” I’ll admit that at first I was pretty stunned. Mostly by his abrupt lack of concern for my feelings, but also because my world was pretty much left crashing down.

I had studied French for seven years, took courses and read books on French art and culture, and I had just spent thousands of dollars and four months of my life living in his damn country.

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe I don’t want to be French?”  I screamed back.

That didn’t go over too well. But nearly three months later, I still think about it quite often. Especially since I’m back in the U.S., and major life decisions are right around the corner.

The problem with self-help articles is that they’re too wishy-washy. It takes them forever to give advice, and even when they do it’s often generalized to the point that no one truly knows what to do with it. So you’re left in the situation of trying to decipher a few words that you’ll eventually consider valuable enough to take with you.

So I’ll be blunt.

How did I transition back to life in the U.S. of A? Short answer: I didn’t. I haven’t as of today, and I probably never will.

But before you tell me to fact-check myself, you’re right. Obviously I had to transition. I don’t walk around the streets of Chicago pretending to be in Reims, asking for pain au chocolat and champagne. I certainly don’t get upset when stores are open past 8 p.m. or miss having a higher concentration of cigarette smoke in the air than oxygen. My BlablaCar account is no longer active; I’m more than happy to drive my own car. I haven’t complained once about having to live in something bigger than the shoebox some refer to as Residium. And I absolutely am not about to trade 35,000 overly supportive Mizzou fans and Truman the Tiger for a wooden beaver (sorry, Sciences Po).

My point (10 paragraphs into this post) is that France changed me, and all that “reverse culture shock” shit is, in fact, bullshit. The person I was when I left for France in January is simply not the person I am today. But I’m also not the 16 year-old version of myself who spent Saturdays wearing a suit and talking to walls for speech competitions (hey, it’s a real thing).

Believe it or not, humans are capable of change. And change–not rain, Luke Bryan–is a good thing. Just ask the 2008 version of Barack Obama, gumball machines, or someone who’s forgotten to switch positions while suntanning (throwback to myself in Greece).

If you Google “How to handle reverse culture shock,” you’ll receive answers from Forbes, Marquette University, and of course incredibly reliable and reputable sources like lifeafterstudyabroad.com

And while their advice is seemingly quite helpful, it’s also kind of just like well DUH.

  1. Reconnect with old friends. Obviously. But 1) how do you summarize 5 months into a conversation 2) you might share a lot of memories with them, but they don’t understand the memories you’re trying to cope with
  2. Make a photo album. Just in case you wanted to see your tears fall on physical photographs
  3. Stay connected with the friends you made there. Group messaging is great, but a 7-hour time difference? Not so much
  4. And the worst advice: keep traveling. ****If this were possible, would we really be Googling reverse culture shock?******

So this is where I reiterate my point: you can’t beat culture shock. I wasn’t 100% happy with America before I left for France, I wasn’t 100% happy with France when I lived there, and now that I’m back I’m still not truly satisfied with either country or culture.

I’ve woken up to realize that I want to live among people who care about their appearance, but don’t judge me if I want to wear sweatpants and a tshirt to the grocery store when I’m hungry at 1 a.m. I can’t seem to reconcile between people who are cultured enough to learn another language without being a snob about their own. I want to eat meals that have the luxury of endless time without terrible service. I want my friends to be people who care about art and literature while still being able to laugh and be loud in public without caring about what other people think (exchange friends, you covered that one).

Transition is defined most basically as “a change from one state or condition to another.” So I juggled with the idea for quite some time. To me, that word meant moving on. Moving on, of course then, meant forgetting.

Transitioned: no. Instead, I’ve learned that I have to deal with the situation. To cope, to evolve, to figure out some way to mesh all these different experiences together. The opportunity to live in another country–regardless of the degree it differs from your own–is an experience that shouldn’t be tossed aside and forgotten about.

A geographical location and a culture have a lot of influence over the person you are and the person you’ll become, along with a variety of other factors. Europe taught me a lot of lessons that the U.S. never could have, and I know it still has a lot to teach me.

I will miss the culture of France the most. In France, people are just on a different level than in the U.S. They tend to care a lot more about academics, quality of life, and the arts. There is a larger focus on personal development and time with family and friends. They really take the time to stop and appreciate the little things.

At the same time, the U.S. will forever be “home,” and I will always be proud to be an American citizen.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that your time shouldn’t be spent balling your eyes out because your study abroad experience is over. Trust me, I’ve been there. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t woken up in my room and freaked out that Reims wasn’t outside my window and that some of my greatest friends live thousands of miles away. But it didn’t help.

Here’s where I’ll insert some inspiring quotes:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” -FDR

“Don’t cry because it’s over smile because it happened”-Dr. Seuss

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on” -Robert Frost

Great quotes from three pretty amazing people. But my favorite advice?

“I think you’re just remembering the good stuff. Next time you look back, I, uh, I really think you should look again.” -500 Days of Summer

I’m not encouraging you to think negatively; rather, I’m pinpointing the very real human reaction we often attribute to the past. As moments in our life fade, we tend to blanket them. It was either “the best time of my life” or “the worst vacation ever.” We either “loved every second of high school” or “couldn’t wait to graduate.” Our ex-boyfriends and girlfriends are either “the only person I’ll ever truly love and lost” or “a total loser.” It just seems easier–especially in reference to the whole story-telling aspect I mentioned early–to generalize.

So while my study abroad experience may seem to be “breathtakingly amazing” when a Tuesday night means going to bed at 10 p.m. because I have work the next morning, it’s important that I remind myself that life without a working cell phone and real pizza wasn’t all that great either. Or when I think to myself “wow, Mizzou is the best journalism school in the world,” that I remember that it also, sadly, has maybe 50 people in total who appreciate that French language for its real beauty.

That’s the secret. Life in the past (whether it was in May or in fifth grade) was awesome. It also had really shitty moments. And guess what? I can pretty much promise you that by May 2016, the sting from “reverse culture shock” will be replaced with the sting of graduation.

No matter how hard we try, life throws us curve balls (yay for cliches!!). We can’t predict it (though some people say they can). All we can do is know there will be moments that make us laugh, cry, or both. There will people we fall in love with, people we can’t stand, etc. There will always be a “transition” to make. But if it wasn’t for transitions 1)  a lot of people would write run-on sentences and that would probably be the end of advanced society 2) we wouldn’t grow.

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.

IMG_0919IMG_1070

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.

 IMG_1006 IMG_1007

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.

\ IMG_2293

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.

IMG_1670IMG_0928 IMG_1008  IMG_1011

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.

IMG_2559

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.

\

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).

IMG_3739_2

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:

IMG_7089_2 IMG_6978  IMG_6795IMG_6825_3 IMG_6673_3

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.