Jan 2, 2018

My Semester Abroad

It's been a week since I returned home from my 4-month semester abroad in Europe and it's been a crazy few days adjusting to home, celebrating Christmas and New Years, and trying to organize my life before heading back to school...all while fighting a 6-hour time difference. Saying goodbye to my home away from home and all of my new friends was so much harder than I thought it was going to be and while I was excited to see my family after four months away it was really hard leaving the city that I grew to love and know!

Although I was still very active on social media and published a handful of  blog posts detailing some of my trips during my time in Europe, I never went too deep into my personal experience and/or tips for those of you planning to do a semester abroad! If you have any other specific abroad questions or want to know more about my experience, feel free to leave a comment on this post or shoot me an email (belleadoreblogs@gmail.com).

Maastricht, Netherlands

For those of you who didn't know, I was studying at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. It's a small city at the southern tip of the Netherlands and can be characterized by cobblestone paths, thec constant smell of sweet waffles, medieval style architecture, gothic churches, dozens of unique restaurants and cafes, and the scenic Maas river that runs through the whole city. I loved that it wasn't the typical tourist city, but instead, it was a place that you could really live in. Of all the places I could have gone, I never expected to end up in the Netherlands but its funny how things work out because I wouldn't have changed anything about my experience. My home university allows you to pick two schools abroad and they work to match you on the best one based on course offerings, grades, interests, and the competitiveness of the program. So I was matched with the highly accredited business school at Maastricht University last April, spent the summer preparing for my trip, and left for my program at the end of August. My parents and sister came with me to explore Amsterdam for a few days before driving to Maastricht to check out the city and ultimately drop me off at the place that I would be living for the rest of the semester. My four months can be best described by constant cycling, stroopwafels (aka the best thing you'll ever eat), new amazing friends, travel, and trying my best to understand the most basic of the Dutch language.

I asked you guys if you had any specific questions and I'm going to try my best to cover them! Again, there's so much more to my 4 months abroad than I can cover in one post and a few pictures so if there's something you want me to elaborate on just let me know!

Where did you stay? 

My university abroad provided tons of information about where to stay for the semester. They had a building called the 'Guesthouse' that was offered as the first choice for every exchange student which was a building dedicated specifically for exchange students. My home university required us to stay here. The rooms were all different - single/double room, kitchen in the room or for the hall, etc. I had a sweet roommate from Barcelona (we got along really well!) and we had a kitchen and dining table in our room! Some people lived on hall with a shared kitchen space for everyone and some students opted to find apartments throughout the city (these people were mostly staying a full year). One of my best friends who was studying in Copenhagen had the absolute best experience at a homestay so if you have any specific questions about that I would be more than happy to ask her about it.

Did you cook/eat out more?

I tried my best to cook most of my meals! Buying and cooking for one person was harder than I thought it was going to be because food went bad so quickly (less preservatives to make the food stay, etc). I usually did food shopping on the weekend and bought ingredients that would last for the week or would make good snacks to bring with me to class. I usually ended up with a ton of fruits to snack on and vegetables that I could cook with chicken and rice, pasta, quinoa, etc. When it got colder, I made a lot of chili, soups, stir frys. That's not to say I didn't eat out because the food options in Maastricht were amazing. Seriously, I would walk around and notice a new restaurant every other day. My university also had a cafe in one of our main study spots with yummy pastries, smoothies, and sandwiches. My friends and I definitely did our fair share of eating out - if we weren't traveling on the weekends we would make a point to get brunch or drinks and dinner at a fun new place in the city!

Where did you stay when you traveled?

I took a lot of day trips since I was super close to the Belgian/German border but when I did travel overnight, I stayed in a combination of hostels, rental apartments, and Airbnb. Honestly, I didn't have the best experience at a hostel so I would definitely recommend checking out Airbnb. But, I know that hostels are cheap and convenient and a ton are surprisingly nice - I would just recommend doing your research before you book!

What did you pack?

It's safe to say I definitely over packed! I traveled there with one carry one, a larger checked bag, and then a backpack. It was hard to pack for several different seasons so I packed a lot of layering pieces. I knew I would need cute and comfortable yet stylish outfits so I only packed things I absolutely knew I would wear. I used the packing guide that my friend Julia made after her semester in London and it worked really well for me! I wore these  sneakers and  booties to death and didn't go a day without this tote bag

How did you get around? (What types of transportation did you use)

The Netherlands is pretty well know for its cycling culture so I got a bike during my first week there. Other than biking, I occasionally took the local bus lines and rode the trains if I was taking a trip! Most European cities have pretty easy to navigate transportation systems that you can either download an app for, check google maps, or look online!

Do you have any tips for someone going abroad?

1. Live Like a Local - I was told by quite a few people that out of everyone, Americans are the most obvious to point out as tourists. Obviously, I didn't want to fall under this category so I tried my best to 'blend in' and live as if I were a regular person there - towards the end of my time, people at the grocery stores and bus drivers would start talking to me in Dutch! I tried to pick up a few common words/phrases to get by in certain situations. Biking was practically the only way to get around so my trusty bike came with me everywhere - I even learned  how to fix a loose chain (seriously, there are more bikes than people in that country). Something that I was happy to 'adjust' to was the way that people dress in Europe - seriously the style is so much more elevated than what you would see on a typical college campus. It was both refreshing and inspiring to see everyone try their best to look nice and show off their style.

2. Take Advantage of Program Offerings - My partner university was great in helping international students transition to life in our new city before classes actually started. They had a whole committee dedicated to international students and providing us with opportunities to take advantage of. That first week was so much fun because we had the opportunity to meet all the new people we would be living, studying, and traveling with. They led tours of the city, bike workshops, dinners, parties, and cultural events like museum nights and traditional Dutch dinners. I met one of my now best friends on the first day thanks to this awesome program. The same group hosted pre-drinks every week which was a great way to socialize, karaoke/trivia nights, and a few planned trips as well. I joined the group on a 3 day trip visiting all the major Dutch cities and had the best time on their Oktoberfest trip that they planned!

3. Step Outside your Comfort Zone - When I was placed in this program, I didn't know any other University of Richmond students that would be joining me. There was around 12 of us going to this school and I'd never met more than half of them. I was worried about going into this experience 'alone' or without a good friend to rely on but it ended up being such a blessing. Not knowing anyone on the program 'forced' me to step outside my comfort zone and I ended up meeting some of the people who would soon become my best friends during the orientation week when everyone was just getting to know each other. The funny thing is, I ended up living on the same floor as 3 Richmond students I didn't know before and was able to become friends with them - I'm excited to see them back at school soon!I'm definitely a planner but this experience taught me to just go with the flow. This was my first time traveling alone (besides to/from school) and there were plenty of times that either put me on edge/ I missed a flight or train/ my plans were completely thrown out the window. It was seriously a learning experience in the best possible way. 

Have you done a semester abroad? Are you planning a trip abroad? I want to know where you are going/went!

Nov 17, 2017

Dreaming of Paris

So it's been quite a bit since my last blog post! But rest assured, I'm alive and well and enjoying the last month I have left of my study abroad semester (time. is. flying)! It's been a pretty difficult to put together blog posts but you can keep up with my on Instagram to see what I've been up to!

 This post might be my favorite that I've written because it lets me relive one of the best weekends ever! Ask anyone and they'll tell you that I've been dreaming of my first trip to Paris for years! I never thought that my first time to the city of lights would be with some of my absolute favorite people in the world! It was everything I have dreamed of and more! I already want to start planning another trip back. My bestie, Julia made a super fun video of the trip with all the highlights...I cry a little every time I watch it.

The program that I'm on works on something similar to a quarter system so the 'semester' is actually divided into Period 1 and Period 2, and we have a whole new set of classes in each period. After my last final exam of the first period, my friend Bobbi and I hopped on a train for the 2-hour trip to Paris. We were meeting up with my college roommate Ashlee, who was coming from Germany, and my two high school best friends, Maddie and Julia, who were coming from Denmark.

Our first priority was grabbing a bite to eat, so we made our way to the nearest cafe. We walked right past Notre Dame and obviously had to stop to snap a few pictures! After lunch, we grabbed gelato at the cutest spot because its a tradition that Bobbi has every time she comes to Paris! Feeling a bit tired and weighed down with our luggage, we took the metro to our apartment in Le Marais. The apartment was quite tiny for 5 girls but it was in such a great location had the absolute best view! 

After a tearful reunion with Maddie and Julia (I hadn't seen them since early August!) we freshened up and headed to see the Eiffel Tower. Julia and Bobbie knew the best metro stop to get out for the best first view of the icon. It such a amazing experience seeing it for the first time. We stepped up out of the metro station, turned the corner, and *bam* there it was. I cried...just watch the video for proof. It was SO much bigger than I thought it was going to be! After taking it all in, we decided to have dinner under the Eiffel Tower. We grabbed baguettes, cheese, fruit, and wine (a truly balanced diet) and cozied up for a picnic. We watched the tower light up and twinkle (I cried, again) and even witnessed a proposal happen! We headed back to our apartment and ended the best first day with some nutella crepes.

We started the next day bright and early. We grabbed croissants for breakfast and made our way to the Arc de Triomphe. The whole trip I just kept stopping to take picture and say how beautiful everything was! The Arc de Triomphe was stunning but the view from the top of it was definitely a highlight of the trip. Thankfully, we went in the morning on a beautiful day so we had a clear view of the entire city.

my best friends💕

We worked up quite an appetite after all the walking and climbing and headed for macarons at Laudurée on Champs-Élysées followed by a lunch of fries and croque-monsiours. I was so excited about finally getting my hands on the new Glossier products so we popped into Colette since it was right around the corner from our lunch spot. The new products did not disappoint...the perfume smells incredible!

We split up after lunch so Ashlee, Maddie, and I wanted to go to the Louvre and Bobbi and Julia wanted to go to Musee L'Orangerie. To be honest, the Mona Lisa was a bit of a letdown! We all met up at the D'Orsay to see a few of Monet's water lilies, Dega's ballerinas, and of course the iconic clock. If you're a student studying abroad, be sure to ask about entrance discounts. We all got into these museums for free with our residence permits. 

After a quick coffee pick me up I made the group take a quick pit stop into a French pharmacy...hello, beauty junkie over here...I had to pick up a few new products!  

Our next stop was Monmarte! Again, I was absolutely stunned by the beautiful view once we got up the what seemed like a thousand steps. The Sacré-Cœur was stunning and we walked around the area where all the artist's have their stands. I picked up the cutest little print that I can't wait to hang up at home. We had gotten sandwiches from a nearby bakery and enjoyed dinner on the steps of the Sacré-Cœur while watching the pink and orange sunset over the city. After the sun had set, we went back to the apartment to get ready for a night out! 

The next morning we had a ~very French~ breakfast of fresh squeezed orange juice, espresso, and croissants. It was a rainy morning but hey, I'll take a rainy day in Paris over anywhere else! We walked to the famous Angelina's for their hot chocolate and picked up a few pastries to along with it. We grabbed a bench in the Tuileries Gardens to enjoy it. It's safe to say we were all on a major sugar high after this. We popped into Galeries Lafayette for a bit of shopping and of course to see the Christmas Tree! 

Palais Royale was on my Paris bucket list and I'm glad we made the time to see it! I had no idea the black and white pillars were actually an art installation...it's such an iconic spot in Paris! 

We ended our last, rainy day in Paris with baguettes before Maddie and Ashlee left for the train station to head back to their host countries. Julia was coming back to Maastricht with me to spend the week before heading to Amsterdam the next weekend. 

It was an absolute whirlwind of a weekend but I would do it again in a heartbeat. We were exhausted from all the walking and exploring but I think I can speak for all of us when I say it was worth it! It was such an amazing experience to share this trip with my very best friends! Paris took a little bit of my heart and I can't wait to come back...hopefully sometime soon!

Check out the video that Julia made from our weekend! 

Oct 4, 2017

Munich, Brussels, & Beyond

It's been a hectic past few weeks but now that I have some downtime, I'm excited to share some of my recent travels! As I'm writing this, I'm escaping the rain at a window seat of a cafe with the best latte macchiatos I've ever had...(if this doesn't describe me then I don't know what does☺️).

The past three weekend have been packed with travels first a road trip all across Holland (4 cities in three days), then to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest, and this past weekend my best friend from Richmond came to visit me and we headed to Brussels, Belgium. To say it's been an adventurous month would be and understatement!! There were times I was pushed waaaay out of my comfort zone but the memories and friendships along the way have made it totally worth it.

I decided to go on the Discover Holland so I could actually learn and see more of my host country! We explored Rotterdam, Kinderdijk, Utrecht, and Volendam...each of the cities were SO different and know for something in particular! Kinderdijk is know for their 19 windmills and waterways that are still in tact since the 1700's! Volendam is a beautiful coastal town so of course it had amazing fish and chips and Rotterdam was the most modern and industrial of the cities! Since I started my time in European in Amsterdam, I truly feel like I've seen all the best that Holland has to offer!

One thing that people told me I had to experience while studying abroad was Oktoberfest. At first, the thought of drinking beer all day pretty much turned me off completely, but I figured that I'm probably never going to have the chance to experience a true Oktoberfest in Munich with all my friends at any other point in my life. So I went, and I'm so glad I did! I did dress up in a dirndl and drank a litre of beer before 10am (these pictures might not be 100% appropriate for the blog) and while I'm not sure I'd be willing to do that again, I'm glad I got the true experience. I went with a group of exchange students from my University here but saw SO many friends from Richmond once I got to Munich...talk about small world! The trip was planned for two full days at the Oktoberfest festival but after a very long first day, a few of use decided to venture in the Munich city center and explore! I'm so glad we did because 1) I'm not sure I would have survived another day and 2) Munich is such a beautiful city! We climbed up a tower of a church in the city center to get a view of the city and oh my gosh it was worth the 200+ steps we climbed. We stumbled upon the Eisbach, a small channel of the Isar River that runs through Munich's central park where surfers line up to ride the (ice-cold) waves that run through all day. It was honestly the last thing I expected to see when walking around Munich but it was quite the sight and something I'll definitely never forget! The surfers were in full wet suits and just taking turns jumping in to ride the waves. We chilled in the park for the afternoon before grabbing dinner and heading back home!

This past weekend, Ashlee my college roommate from last year came to visit! She's currently doing her semester in Germany so she took a train to visit me here! I showed her all that my city has to offer and kicked off the weekend with an amazing dinner with friends and a night out ;) Since she was here for a long weekend, we decided to take a day trip to Brussels on Sunday! Neither of us had been and wanted to experience real Belgian waffles and chocolate. It took about two hours to get there and by the time we arrived we were hungry so we headed to find the best waffles in the city. I got strawberry, banana, and nutella on mine and it was 100% worth the calories! We spent the afternoon in an art museum and then ended the afternoon picking up some chocolates to take back home. If the Belgians do one thing right, it's definitely their sweets! Brussels was a fun city to see and I'm hoping to explore other close Belgian cities like Bruges and Ghent sometime soon!

This week I just have a normal class schedule and no weekend trips planned (yet)! I hope you guys are enjoying my travel posts...if there is something specific you want to know about my abroad experience/my university/my transition...let me know!!

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