Reflecting on travel & the common factors

This post comes from Jordyn Jones, who spent Spring semester of her sophomore year in Granada, Spain. You can see her first post here:

Jordyn with friends at the Temple of Zeus in Athens, Greece

Jordyn with friends at the Temple of Zeus in Athens, Greece

I’ve found a quote that expressed my spring break more clearly than I can describe, “certainly, travel is more than seeing sights; its a change that goes on deep and permanent, in the idea of living”.

Before leaving for spring break to travel to three different countries in ten days I was extremely nervous for several reason. One it would be the first time for me to travel alone without the guide of my program and I was not sure if I could handle it. Second I also heard about the stereotypes of people from the specific countries that I chose to visit. Lastly I didn’t know any other languages besides Spanish and English and my thought was how was I supposed to survive without being able to communicate.  Of course these are all practically concerns but yet I was still excited to go on this journey and sure enough I’ve learned more than I imagined.

Jordyn with friends in the Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Jordyn with friends in the Colosseum, Rome, Italy

The world is literally more exciting than any classroom I can sit in or textbook I could read. I literally went to three countries and seen three of the Seven Wonders of the World all in ten days. Something that never could be understood just by seeing a picture in the book or realized that the monument is more important to the city than the glamorized effects that are seen in the movies. I had the chance to stand in the place of history as I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which was a gift to the French people from their own government. I also had the opportunity to stand where the great Ancient Greek civilization took place in the Acropolis in Athens Greece where one of the most important types of politics was developed. Lastly I’ve stood in the stands of the Colosseum of Rome, Italy where some of the greatest gladiator battles took place.

This spring break was the most educational, exhilarating spring break to ever take place. I’ve learned history from three different cities and even more about myself. To be honest spring break was one of the most stressful but amazing times of my life. Traveling the world is an amazing but tiring experience, I never considered that four plane rides, deciphering three different metro systems, and trying to tell taxis in three different languages where to go would ever be so difficult.

Jordyn holding up the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Jordyn holding up the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

People always glamorized or told stories of how beautiful traveling is and it is but they always leave out the massive detail that it’s hard and maybe it was only so hard because I am young, but when I thought of traveling the world I never thought of the actually action of traveling. Transportation was the least of my concerns in the beginning and yet it became my biggest when the rest of my nervous concerns really never existed as soon as I began my journey.

After ten days I realized one major thing that I never thought of that people are the same no matter which country you visit. It doesn’t matter where you live or what language you speak we generally all have similarities. We’re all excited when we meet people from different areas of the world, we all have aspirations whether it’s like mines to travel around the world or someone else’s dream just to get to America. An aspiration is an aspiration.

In short we all just want to enjoy life and after that realization the idea of stereotypes and no being able to communicate all went out the window because people from around the world will always have a common factor that will allow us to interact with each other. This idea will always stay with me for the rest of my life. The fact that I’m American and the French, Greeks, and Italians welcomed me into their world with open arms will always fill my heart with eternal joy.

Spring 2015 Photo Contest Winners!

Thank you to all our world-traveling students who submitted their amazing photos from their time abroad! We received nearly 40 entries and received over 1,000 votes from social media, orientation meetings and our bon voyage social.

We are excited to announce our Spring 2015 winners:

1st Place – Allie Menzel: Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

2nd Place – Sydney Davino: Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

3rd Place – Katherine Roberts: Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Happiness is Private: Studying Abroad for You, Not Social Media

This post is the sixth installment in a semester-long series of posts from Towson senior Allie Woodfin. Allie is studying this Fall 2014 semester at the University of Avignon. You can also follow along on her tumblr at: 

“Every form of happiness is private”


Woodfin in Avignon.

Like a stained-glass window in a cathedral, anything epic, memorable, and beautiful is made up of small, seemingly insignificant pieces. I would absolutely overlook a shard of brilliant blue glass on the sidewalk near Notre Dame, but I would not overlook the magnificent windows—my camera lens was probably already pointed at them.

Before I start, I should say that I think talking too much about the “transformation” of study abroad creates unfair expectations for magic to happen as soon as you step on European soil. I didn’t learn this as soon as I set foot in Charles de Gaulle Airport, and I regret that I discounted my first few days since they weren’t so beautiful. However, what I’m finding is that the best things about study abroad are not your pictures with monuments that anyone in the world can name. Those are cheap. Everyone has those. They’re not the moments that you made happen. The best things are the split seconds of eye contact you make with strangers because you’ll never see them again, the familiar silhouette of the local men and women, the words that you pick up and where you learned them, and the times you realize that you’re functioning in another culture: giving directions to tourists, the only people who know the town less than you; wandering around Sephora and remembering the words for facial features and cosmetics; and hanging up after a 6-minute phone call and realizing that you’ve overcome your worst fear since getting to France. These are things that you weren’t looking for, but that found you anyway.

For example, staying in Avignon during my Toussaints vacation and hanging out with my host family (and my host mom’s adorable parents) was not as trendy and Instagrammable as toasting on a beach in Ibiza, and I felt like a goober telling the other Erasmus students I’d stayed home while they went to Barcelona and Cannes. But one day, we ate the freshest oysters money can buy, and my “host grandfather” showed me how to dress one with mustard, vinegar, and red onions before tossing it back. I took regular naps in the giant rectangle of sunshine that lights up my bed around 2PM. We made pumpkin pie for Halloween. I met a retired lady for coffee and English conversation one morning. I learned how to understand a very different French accent over a week of dinners. There are a lot of other beautiful things that happened during that vacation that, if I told you about them, you’d say “seriously? You crossed an ocean to study abroad and you think that’s cool?” These things don’t matter to someone else, and they’d probably smile and nod while I obliviously chattered about moments that only I saw and only I can understand.

But—that’s okay. As Ayn Rand once said, “every form of happiness is private.” Thinking about it this way has helped me reconcile what every study abroad alumnus has told me, which is that you come home and find that you can’t put into words what the most poignant moments of your trip were. Instagram your trip until it can’t be Instagrammed any more (guilty as charged), but don’t engineer your study abroad experience so that it’s outwardly beautiful. Blow off the monuments for a little while, make a fool out of yourself trying to order lunch at a restaurant on your first weekend (and go back once your French has improved drastically, to the delight of the waiter), take random long walks because you can, and take note of the little pieces of your trip—they’ll make up the magnificent story you’ll remember later.


Finding Balance in France

This post is the fourth installment in a semester-long series of posts from Towson senior Allie Woodfin. Allie is studying this Fall 2014 semester at the University of Avignon. You can also follow along on her tumblr at:

Confession time: I had an unfair expectation for myself when I came to France. I’ve studied French since I was 11, majored in it in Towson’s remarkable French department, and am lucky to have an aptitude for the language as well as a deep interest in it. That being said, I had an “all or nothing” attitude about it when I came. For several reasons, that did not last very long.

First reason: while I’m the only U.S. American on exchange at the University of Avignon this semester, many other students speak English. Rather than isolating myself from them, I’ve decided to pick my battles and agree to speak English with some of them when we occasionally cross paths.

Second reason: many people don’t speak much English, and are very excited to learn that I’m American. My last name is British in origin, and I still have a noticeable American accent. So, people sometimes try to start conversations in English or throw out a word or two. At first, I took that really personally—I assumed that they thought I spoke poorly. However, I have learned that many of them are just deeply curious. (Aren’t I the same way?) Many adults I’ve spoken to were dissatisfied with their English education in lycée, and are looking to practice.

Third reason: being willing to speak English some of the time allows me to teach while being taught. I became an English teaching assistant at a private high school, and have had a unique opportunity to talk about American culture, learn the ins and outs of the French education system, and even help students proofread letters to American penpals. Someone also recently suggested that I post an ad on LeBonCoin (French Craigslist, basically) for private lessons. I have 5 clients and am making 15 euros an hour to help people. It has been more gratifying than I ever could have imagined.

Additionally, I’m taking a translation course, in which I and the other students work hard to learn each other’s mother tongue. If there’s a course in which the “playing field” is pretty level, that would have to be it.

As long as these paragraphs were, English makes up very little of what I’m speaking here. I roll out of bed, rub the sleep from my eyes, and speak French with my host family at breakfast; listen to French podcasts on my 20-minute walk to the university; listen to an average of 4 hours of French lectures a day; ask other students questions about the library; speak French at dinner; and do my homework in French.

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, switching from one language to another feels a lot like baking in a sauna, diving into a cold lake, and scuttling back to the sauna. It’s a shock to your system, but you get used to it—right now, I’m typing this in English and listening to my host family banter in French. Getting over myself and  being judicious about speaking English in certain situations has given me a much richer and more connected experience than I would have otherwise had. Instead of burning the bridge between myself, my native language, and my place of birth; I’m learning how to build a bridge, and weave these two lives together.

Overcoming Curveballs Abroad

This post is the third installment in a semester-long series of posts from Towson senior Allie Woodfin. Allie is studying this Fall 2014 semester at the University of Avignon. You can also follow along on her tumblr at: 


Hi everyone! It’s been a while–my laptop suddenly crashed three weeks ago, which is why I haven’t been writing. So, here’s the story about what happened, how I resolved it, what I learned, and what I suggest for future study abroad students who might find themselves in the same situation.

I turned on my laptop on one Saturday morning, to find that it would only stay on a screen with an Apple logo and folder with a question mark. According to forums I found on my tiny iPhone screen, I would probably need my hard drive replaced. So here I was in France, with homework to finish and a mountain of tests looming in the next month, with a possibly broken laptop. That was a curveball I wasn’t expecting.

I asked my host parents (Mac owners) for a suggestion on a repair shop at dinner that night. Their recommendation was for a place about 5km from our house. I walked to the shop on a pleasant afternoon, explained the problem, and left my computer there for almost three weeks while it was being repaired.

Every time I had do so something that usually required my computer, I had to find an alternative. As it turns out, my iPhone could do everything I needed (even as a non-functioning phone, apps still work fine over WiFi). I researched for classes, kept up with friends back home with social media apps, and even had two interviews via Google Hangouts and GoToMeeting.

It probably sounds like I just shrugged, opened a few iPhone apps, and moved on. But, it was kind of like trying to turn on light switches after the power has gone out. It was inconvenient, but I made it work. The university has free computers, which also forced me to learn how to use an international keyboard–something that I’d admittedly been avoiding.

I learned to be realistic about what I actually need. Was it rock bottom to sit in a chair at a public computer and tap at a big, foreign keyboard until my work was finished? Not even close.

There was one thing I did before this happened that made my life much easier, which I highly recommend for future study abroad students. Before you leave, and as you acquire files on study abroad, upload everything you don’t want to lose (or just want to have handy) to Google Drive. Photos, Word documents, PDFs, anything. You have 30GB of free storage in your TU Gmail—use it ! Since I have copies of some important documents in mine, I set up two-factor authentification, which is not as high-tech as it sounds—you provide a phone number when you set it up, and Google sends you a verification code to your phone so you can log in.

So, I have my computer back (128 euros later), had an excuse to walk almost 18km in beautiful Provence, learned how to accept a repair estimate and pay an invoice, and learned how to work around a curveball. As I found, even if you can’t immediately field a curveball all by yourself, there are almost always people and resources around you to help you do so.


The French Way of Life

This post is the second installment in a semester-long series of posts from Towson senior Allie Woodfin. Allie is studying this Fall 2014 semester at the University of Avignon.

You can also follow along on her tumblr at:

tumblr_nbj1r8KiB01tkiq0jo1_1280My favorite thing about life here is that the French love pleasure. Let me define pleasure: not blind hedonism, and not reckless indulgence punctuated with regret—but civilized appreciation for things that make life taste sweet. Things that tend to be quietly looked down upon in the U.S.: relishing delicious food, taking long vacations, kissing for more than a few seconds—are parts of life here. In America, we scuttle through enjoyment as if we don’t deserve it. As if we should always be cutting carbs, checking emails on vacation, yo-yo dieting, and waiting until no one’s around to kiss our loved ones. There is a reason why foreigners fall in love with the French lifestyle—because the French love the French lifestyle.

As much as Americans love the leisure, wine, and cheese that France takes so much pride in, we have a hard time understanding how that can be a lifestyle instead of a vacation diet (to be halfheartedly sweated off in guilty elliptical workouts later). Here’s the difference, according to Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat: ‘French women think about good things to eat; American women typically worry about bad things to eat.'” The mindset here seems to be that if you’re going to do something at all, do it right, and enjoy it.

I’m living with a host family that owns a local restaurant, and have had no choice but to embrace that mindset wholeheartedly. We eat whatever’s in season and whatever is unbearably tasty: quiches with walnuts and blue cheese, tomatoes stuffed with spicy pork sausage, galettes baked with ham, tomatoes, and eggs. And unless the sky is falling or we’re especially tired that evening, we finish the meal with fresh bread, flavorful cheese wrapped in paper, and creamy yogurts flavored with lemon, chocolate, or Madagascar vanilla.

Even my salad at the airport on my first day in France was delicious: a salad of crisp and frilly lettuce, salty prosciutto, soft mozzarella, and a slick and tangy blend of olive oil & balsamic poured from its very own doll-sized bottle. In the U.S., this would be $17, considered gourmet, and on the “skinny” menu. In France, this came from a cardboard box and cost about 6€. No healthy humblebrag label, just good food. Food that makes you smile when you’re finished.

But to smile at the end of your rich and delicious meal, you can’t be miserably full. Moderation is the key to guiltless enjoyment. It’s also a matter of health and well-being. I learned this from a YouTube ad for Roquefort Société, touting slices of salty, creamy cheese flecked with steel-green veins. Just as the commercial was about to end, it gently warned potential customers: “Pour votre santé, évitez de grignoter entre les repas.” That basically means ,“for your health, avoid snacking between meals.” There’s a website to prove it (

If you’re snacking or overeating, you’re either dissatisfied with your food or dissatisfied with something in your life (which is why emotional eating is a problem for so many people). You can’t hurry through the pleasurable parts of your life and expect to be satisfied. And, you certainly can’t mistake your guilt afterwards as guilt for indulging—instead, recognize that as guilt for cheating yourself out of the full enjoyment of something wonderful. Next time you’re tempted to binge-eat fat-free, sugar-free ice cream in the privacy of your home, go buy a single scoop of rich, sweet goodness, eat it on a sunny stroll, and remember the difference. Moderation is the key to pleasure—and you deserve it.

– Alexandra Woodfin – 

On Location in France: Allie in Avignon

This post is the first installment in a semester-long series of posts from Towson senior Allie Woodfin. Allie is studying this Fall 2014 semester at the University of Avignon. You can also follow along on her tumblr at: 

Avignon, France

Avignon, France

I’m studying abroad this semester in Avignon, France! It’s my senior year at TU, and since I finished my Economics major with a summer course, I finally have the opportunity to intensively study French at the University of Avignon.

Avignon is a beautiful city, and was even named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. However, I chose Avignon instead of a destination like Paris because I wanted immersion. Paris is very international, and I was warned that it would be difficult to immerse in French since there are so many English speakers. People talk about the value of being “immersed” in a language or culture, but it’s something I didn’t completely understand before I arrived here. As soon as I disembarked from my overnight flight to Paris, however, it started to make sense. I had to listen for announcements in French, read signs in French, and ask a baggage agent about my suitcase.

Many people in Paris spoke English, but the farther south I went, the less English I heard and the more I realized that immersion is “sink or swim.” In a country where everyone speaks the language you’re trying to learn, you don’t get a cookie or an A+ for remembering a word or conjugating your sentence properly. All that means is that you got your thoughts across. If there’s a “real world” version of learning a foreign language, immersion would have to be it!

Immersion in a language that isn’t your first is like distance swimming in very cold water. You can always hop out of that water and take a warm break in your first language, but that only makes it harder to jump back into the language you’re learning. My best days with French have been when I’ve stayed in the cold water and kept my English exposure minimal.

One of the best things I’ve learned is to have patience. Provided that you’re polite and speak clearly, people generally catch on to the fact that you’re learning their language—and as one person told me, it’s flattering that someone wants to come to their county and learn. My Airbnb host was a wonderful listener, and praised me for speaking well. I was very shy at first because I was afraid of saying something incorrectly, but the more I spoke, the more confident I became.

I live with a host family now, which means that if I’m at home, we are speaking French. Emmanuel taught me how to make coffee and lock up the house, all in French, and Odile teaches me about Provençal food and French culture. Their 9-year-old daughter Clara is very smart, and I’ve learned just from keeping up with her! I can understand about 85% of what’s being said, but my goal is to be able to really hold up my end of a conversation.

Reaching that goal will require a lot of discipline. Before I left, I decided that I wanted to reserve one day a week for English—Skype, Facebook, and blogging. That hasn’t been easy, especially as I tie up loose ends in the U.S. and am meeting other exchange students whose common language is English. Once classes start and I’m meeting more French students, I’m looking forward to how much I’ll learn about this beautiful language.

Mini 2015 Faculty-Led Program: Marketing in France

Marketing in the Shadow of Bordeaux Vineyards, France

Bordeaux and Paris, France

Courses: MKTG 341 Principles of Marketing OR MKTG 495 Independent Research

Fearless Leader: Prof. Philippe Duverger

Excursions: Paris to see the Louvre and Versailles

Did you know the historical part of Bordeaux is a UNESCO world heritage site? Brush up on your world heritage!

Need tips on how to pack and what to expect to see and experience? Check out this site!

To see the Horizons program page click here!