Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

Over the hump

Shortly after I arrived in Montpellier, I realized I needed to plan trips for the month of March because there wasn’t a break from school during March.  By doing that, I hoped that it would make the time go faster, and it would make sure that March wasn’t dragging on…

I pretty much occupied all of my free time by going somewhere this month.  My first trip was an excursion to Carcassonne. Carcassonne is a medieval fortified city in the south west of France.  Many movies, such as Robin Hood with Kevin Costner, include scenes that were filmed at Carcassonne.  It is also the largest fortified city in Europe that still exists today.  This city was interesting to me because there was also a city outside of the walls, but as soon as you entered the fortified part of the city, you felt completely different.  The city was beautiful, and while walking along the ramparts, you could see the Pyrenees in the distance. That was the first time I had seen the Pyrenees, and I was mesmerized by them. We just don’t have mountains like that on the east coast in the States! I also met some people on this trip from Switzerland, Germany, and Australia.



The next trip that I made was to Brussels, Belgium.  I’ve heard from many people that there is not much to do there, and that I should go to Bruges instead, but honestly, I was content in Brussels for the weekend.  I could definitely notice a huge difference in the look of the city between Montpellier and Brussels (southern vs. northern Europe).  Brussels was dark with cobblestone streets and barren trees, and Montpellier is sunny, with medium shaded stone, and palm trees.  The first night in Brussels, I realized that Belgium does not have any open container laws. People were sitting in a circle with their friends on the ground in the Grande Place, just drinking and having a good time.  The next day I tried the standard Belgian snacks: frites, waffles, and chocolate. All three were amazingly good! I saw Mannequin Pis, which was highly anticlimactic but worth seeing.  He has over 900 outfits that they constantly change.  The day that I saw him, he was wearing a neon yellow suit.  Later, I went to Atomium which was built for the Universal Exposition in the 1950s in Brussels.  Basically, it is this giant molecule sticking up in the air.  Inside there are exhibitions and a light show. It was the most psychedelic thing I’ve ever seen, and in the 1950s they probably just thought it was futuristic.


The Grande Place by night

After visiting Belgium, I went on an shorter excursion to Arles, France.  Arles is situated in Provence just next to Langedoc-Rousillon where Montpellier is. I wanted to go to Arles because my French teacher in high school always talked about it.  It is the sister city of York, PA where I live. Also Van Gogh lived in Arles in his later years, so I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.  Arles is one of many Roman cities in southern France with it’s coliseum, amphitheater, Roman baths, etc.  I really enjoyed seeing those places along with the Rhone River, the cathedral, the café in one of Van Gogh’s paintings, and the hospital where Van Gogh ended up after he cut his ear off! I found it interesting that they still use the coliseum in Arles.  Coming up there is a huge bull fighting festival in the coliseum, and there are many concerts held there.  The Romans probably never would have guessed that!

The courtyard of the hospital where Van Gogh ended up after cutting off his ear.

The courtyard of the hospital where Van Gogh ended up after cutting off his ear.

The next stop was Rome.  (I went from one coliseum to another). I took a long weekend to go to Rome with another LVC student who is in Perugia this semester.  I had a great time in Rome.  It was not much different than Montpellier, minus the speaking Italian part, because they are both Mediterranean cities.  I found that Italian resembled Spanish more than French, even though French people have told me that they can understand when someone speaks Italian, but not when someone speaks Spanish.  The weather was great the first day in Rome, so I took advantage of it. I saw the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and much more that I probably didn’t even realize was significant.  The next day, I went to the Vatican and did a guided tour. I’m not Catholic, so I mainly went for the art.  We had a great tour guide who was born and raised in Rome and who was an art historian (so I really lucked out with that).  She had an enormous vocabulary, and I was very impressed! I was in awe at all of the detail and precision of the artwork in the Vatican.  Michelangelo and Raphael were truly two gifted artists! I saw my favorite painting thus far at the Vatican, The School of Athens.  After visiting the Vatican, I took advantage of the famous gelato in Italy. We went to a gelato shop that had over 150 flavors to choose from!!  Needless to say, at the end of this trip, I was exhausted. I think I’m still trying to recover.


St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican

At this point, I am over half way through my study abroad trip, and I definitely think the trips that I planned helped me reach the half way point with ease.  I’m glad I thought of that right away, so March for me was not boring or slow! This weekend, I am going to the caves of Roquefort where they make Roquefort cheese (bleu cheese with the veins in it).  I’m excited to learn about how they make it and the effects that the caves have on the cheese.


Caity Stevens

Greetings everyone!

I’m Caity and its safe to say I’m a pretty laid back, slightly funny, sophomore Digital Communications major, minoring in Business Administrations. I am also a member of the field hockey team!

In May, I will be in Maastricht, Netherlands for a 4 week study abroad experience. Studying abroad is on my bucket list and I can’t wait to cross it off! Stay tuned to hear (and see!) about all of my adventures in Europe.


Despite What You’ve Been Told

There seems to have been some confusion as to the events that occurred between the 14th and 15th of March, 2015. Rest assured, I have decided to shed some light on the investigation of anomaly NZ-348, hereby referred to as, “The Everywhere Tree.” Some pictures may have been censored, to protect the identities of the people involved.

I inspected the picture on the unfortunately sparse dossier that I had been given. It looked so stupidly ordinary that I considered tossing it in the lake and calling it a day. Looking at the other occupants of the boat, it appeared that they were considering the same.

Investigator Parke, contemplating the choices that have led her up to this point.

Investigator Parke, contemplating the choices that have led her up to this point.

Continue reading

Everybody Wants To Rule the World

I’ve mentioned cows before in this blog, I’m sure of it. Furthermore, I can guarantee that a relatively significant portion of my pictures feature cows in some form or another. Now, this baffled me at first, because cows are also fairly common in Pennsylvania. I suspect that my fascination with new Zealand’s bovine population has something to do with how free the cows are. Free range cows, free range sheep, and free range exchange students, all in the same place.

This guy doesn't know how good he has it.

This guy doesn’t know how good he has it.

That being said, I suspected that some other members of my group weren’t as enthusiastic about the livestock, as Jay had just made his third statement of the day expressing his intentions to punch a dangerous animal in the face, in this case, a snake.

Watch out, Australia.

Watch out, Australia.

The point is, we were experiencing classic symptoms of wanderlust, or quite possibly bloodlust in Jay’s case. That was where the van came in, a dark green monstrosity with a bit of a squeak and a broken radio. But none of that mattered, because the van was freedom. The van was the power to be as free range as those cows, to drive whenever we wanted.

Just don't mention that you have a van to first years.

Just don’t mention that you have a van to first years.

Speaking of going out, you may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned anything about clubbing and Hamilton’s abundant and occasionally seedy night life. That’s mostly because there’s actually not a whole lot to tell. We went out. We danced a portion of the night away. We caught transport home aboard one of the shuttles that Hamilton occasionally decides to send us.

Pictured here.

Pictured here.

It’s probably worth noting that the main thing preventing us from painting the town red was the cost of being at the club. Essentially, every establishment in town accepts payment in cash, credit, sobriety, and dignity, in that order. Once you’ve been robbed of all of these things, there’s nothing left to do but cut your losses and head home, assuming that buses are still running and nobody’s puked on them yet.

For all of your late night lavatory needs.

For all of your late night lavatory needs.

Run Through the Jungle

Our first proper trip in New Zealand was an internationally sponsored trip to hobbiton, famed movie set and tourist hotspot. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the nearby “tourist farm,” which I can only assume is a place where free range tourists breed while being fed a steady diet of overpriced fast food.

The Hawaiian shirts dot the countryside for miles.

The Hawaiian shirts dot the countryside for miles.

Indeed, on our travels, we ran into many novelty locations, the most egregious of which was possibly Corrugated Sheet Metal Land, where you’re welcomed by a giant dog and must proceed through a gauntlet of dead eyed metal animals before finally emerging on the other side, gasping for breath. You suspect that something changed when you were there, but you can’t put your finger on it. You consider bringing it up with your friends, and they consider the exact same thing, but nobody speaks. When night comes, you dream of a cat, a single cat, sitting on your windowsill, regarding you balefully. The cat is made out of metal, but you can see the twitch of a tail, and suddenly, in the blink of an eye, it’s at the foot of your bed. Yellow, corrugated eyes. Have you seen them before? Will you remember seeing them now? They tell you things that you’ve always known, but tried to forget. THE SHEEP ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM. THE SHEEP ARE-

Hm. Not sure what happened there. Anyway, back to Hobbiton.

Hobbiton itself was an oasis of green amongst fields of brown, trees both real and constructed swaying in the idyllic breeze. I wondered idly how the hobbit economy functioned as we wandered through the town. Did they have organized factories? Somehow, I suspected that hand crafting all of the tiny doors and windows would take a very long time.

I'm almost certain that someone on the Internet knows these things.

I’m almost certain that someone on the Internet knows these things.

Now, at this point, it becomes hard to talk about New Zealand as a group. Generally speaking, we’ve all done similar things and taken similar trips, but I imagine that our respective stories will deviate sharply from here on out. Hopefully, you’ll find my personal story to be sufficiently entertaining, at least until I go “missing” in the New Zealand wilderness, where I’ll be forced to build my own wifi tower out of cows and cow byproducts.

Ideally, somewhere around here.

Ideally, somewhere around here.

That being said, we did all manage to compromise and went off on a merry ride to Raglan on the country’s west coast. There, we partook in a water-based form of masochism the locals referred to as “surfing.” We received training in the proper way to ride a surfboard which was, generally speaking, more or less altered when a wave decided to come out of its watery resting place to gut punch one or more of us. After our collective sustained a crooked nose, a surfboard to the face, and an assortment of bruises, we limped home, deciding that we had had “fun,” a state quite possibly induced by one or more blows to the head.

Surfing. Not even once.

Surfing. Not even once.

Here Comes the Sun

Sometimes, I think that if I got off of the bus and started towards the nearest mountain range, I wouldn’t get 10 feet before running into some kind of painted on background. The landscape stretches on so far, it almost seems unreal.
Slightly more painfully real is the sun, free to slow roast us without the encumbrance of any silly ozone layer.

this jerk right here

this jerk right here

To make matters worse, it turns out that buying sunscreen in this country is the financial equivalent of buying gas in our country, in that it’s incredibly expensive and never seems to last as long as you’d like.

These were the lessons that we learned on the first few days at the university, in which we were subjected to a number of grueling endurance exercises euphemistically called “team bonding activities.” They increased our bonds with our new kiwi friends while simultaneously increasing our risk of skin cancer.

It was only at night that we were able to emerge from our holes, covered in a film of sweat, that we were able to roam the night, instilling terror in the general populace and buying all of the coat hangars from the local equivalent of Walmart.

Will the violence never end?

Will the violence never end?

Additionally, we all became acquainted with the residents of our buildings, all fresh out of high school with twinkles in their eyes, devoid of the thousand yard stare commonplace amongst anyone that has ever looked at a tuition bill. Naturally, this being a first year dorm, there was a disproportionate number of guitars to people, which I think is nice because guitars don’t complain when you run naked through the hallway. Still though, it was nice to be in the company of people that were just as unfamiliar with the university as we were.

The first weekend, the university was nice enough to shuttle us all off to a rugby game, which, before you ask, did not involve new Zealand’s famous all blacks.

Their uniforms were only mostly black.

Their uniforms were only mostly black.

That being said, the game proved enjoyable once I managed to figure out the ensuing flurry of violence.

You may be wondering at this point about all of the touristy activities that the kiwis secretly judge us for doing. Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of that next time.



A whirlwind of 7 weeks

I’ve never blogged before about anything, so when I was asked to blog about my experiences abroad, I was a little hesitant.  I’ve been in Montpellier now for 7 weeks and a lot has happened in that amount of time.  I am the only student from LVC to venture to Montpellier this semester, and I am currently living with a host family.  The first week was filled with a lot of freaking out because reality was setting in that I am really here for 4 months! If it weren’t for Jill, Caitlin, and the rest of my family, I don’t know where I’d be at this point! My experience has completely turned around since the first week here!

Montpellier claims to have 300 days of sunshine a year, and so far, it has lived up to its reputation!  Luckily there are palm trees lining the streets, and the weather is very mild in the winter.  Not to mention, the beach is only 15 min. from my house.  I’ve successfully managed to escape the snow that everyone is buried under back in Pennsylvania! The funniest part about the weather here is that the French people think it’s really cold. So they are wearing full winter gear while I have on a light jacket.  Boy, do they not know how good they have it! It amazes me how old everything is that I am seeing.  The center of Montpellier has been around for over 1000 years, and it is hard to comprehend that many the buildings I am admiring have been there for over 1000 years!!

Place de la Comedie - Montpellier

La Place de la Comedie in Montpellier

At this point I am pretty much adjusted to living in Montpellier, whether it’s from taking public transportation to get to school, asking someone for directions in French, or to living with my host family.  All of my classes are in French at the university, and sometimes I sit back and think how crazy it is that I can take classes completely in French.  It amazes me that I understand what’s going on when the professor is teaching in French.  I’ve also made friends since I’ve been here through my classes and excursions that I’ve gone on.  It is very easy to make friends from all over the world while abroad.  I’ve met people from 6 out of 7 continents so far. Unfortunately, I haven’t met anyone from Antarctica; I might have to settle for 6 out of 7 continents.


Me and some Norwegian, Danish, Irish, and American friends in St. Guihelm le Desert

As far as traveling goes, I’ve done my fair share so far, and I’m not stopping any time soon! Before coming to France, I had the idea in my head that I was going to try to see mainly France, and not many countries other than France.  My reasoning was that I wanted to thoroughly get to know the place in which I’m living for 4 months.  Well, as it turns out, I’m doing a mix of seeing France and seeing other countries.  So far in France I’ve been to Paris twice, Marseille, St. Marie de la Mer, Aigues-Mortes, St. Guihelm le Desert, Le Mont St. Michel, and Versailles. Outside of France, I’ve been to London and Barcelona.  My favorite place so far was Barcelona!! I was mesmerized by the Gaudi architecture in the city. La Sagrada Familia was my favorite church I have ever been in, and it’s not even finished. They’ve been building it for 142 years. I can only imagine what it will look like when it is completed!  Next week I am going to Brussels, and I’m excited to travel again!

Inside of La Sagrada Familia. It is designed to look like you are under the canopy of a forest.

Inside of La Sagrada Familia. It is designed to look like you are under the canopy of a forest.

In two weeks marks the half-way point of my journey in France. I think it will feel a lot better to know that I am on the downhill slope when that time comes.  However, I still have a lot to see and plan to travel and learn as much as I can in the time I have left.

Until next time…

I can see for miles

The first thing I saw on the plane was an old man informing me that I had the wrong seat, even when my ticket said otherwise.
Off to a good start.
Turns out, we were both right. He and his wife got an entire row to themselves, and I got an entire row to myself in premium seating. Having sufficiently elevated myself through dumb luck over the rest of the peasants on the plane, I proceeded to enjoy the creature comforts of cashmere seating and raspberry French toast for the duration of the flight.

Their use of tulip petals instead of the more traditional rose lost them a few points.

Their use of tulip petals instead of the more traditional rose lost them a few points.

After an evening of sleep which reconnected me with my inner contortionist, we had landed in New Zealand. Now, we had not showered in around a day. But regardless of our levels of hygiene, the swarm of flies that descended upon us was almost certainly not justified. Even less so was the detainment of Jay Zimmerman, an ordeal that lasted for almost two hours and revealed no illegal substances, despite him having a “particularly heavy suitcase.” He even made the news for it, presumably made to pose for a mugshot to appropriately rile up the people.
 My first impressions of New Zealand were as follows:

1) This country sure has a lot of cows.

2) This country sure has a lot of sheep.

Needless to say, as a Pennsylvanian, I felt right at home. So, after driving past enough farm animals to give old McDonald a heart attack, we arrived at Waikato University.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a cow stamping on a pasture- forever.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a cow stamping on a pasture- forever.

As it turns out, New Zealand takes a rather “lazy fair [sic]” approach to getting their students ready for class. Go to the library. Ask about your student enrollment at that desk. No, not that desk. The other one. Are you stupid? Wait in line. Sign this. Run to your department building. No, I don’t know what your department is. Figure it out. Now go back to the first desk. Try not to get lost.

15 paces east. Turn left at the first Palm tree. X marks the spot.

15 paces east. Turn left at the first Palm tree. X marks the spot.

The majority of our first afternoon was spent on what can only be called the world’s worst scavenger hunt.

Riders on the Storm

I’m not that big of a fan of cities. Between the noise, the constant hurry, and the crowds rushing along like so many terrible cattle drives, I’d rather take the middle class utopia of the suburbs. Nothing but housing developments and strip malls as far as the eye can see.

That also sounds pretty terrible. All of that being said, Los Angeles is a happy compromise between the two, possessing spacious vistas and nice outlying neighborhoods with plenty of things to see. Granted, some things are hard to see through the haze, but I got to head on down to the La Brea Tar Pits, which is Spanish for “The Tar Tar Pits.” Seeing all of that wildlife perfectly preserved in the tar that would eventually become an interstate highway is fascinating.

Shortly after, I made my way over to LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which sounds a little bit like the noise a cat makes when it coughs up a hairball. Full disclosure, I know next to nothing about art. Everything’s abstract, and there’s never any direct meaning to anything. Don’t get my wrong, it’s wonderful and surreal, but I hate never quite knowing where the bathroom is.

Picture taken shortly before my arrest.

Picture taken shortly before my arrest.

Instead of me talking about the different exhibits I saw, I will instead present to you a series of pictures, entitled, “Deeper Meaning: The ‘My Face When’ Collection.”

Please enjoy, but no flash photography, because you’re looking at an electronic device and that would be pretty absurd. Really, do you know that you can take screen shots nowadays? Technology sure is amazing.

mfw i look incredibly photogenic while killing a guy

mfw i look incredibly photogenic while killing a guy

mfw i want to play guitar but the emperor won't let me

mfw i want to play guitar but the emperor won’t let me





I also had the chance to visit the Griffith Park Observatory, at which I was able to observe most of LA, the surrounding hillscape, and like, maybe five stars. Which may or may not have been aircraft.

The next day, I took a bike ride through Venice, which is funny because I haven’t ridden a bike in years. They say that you never forget, and being tossed into the middle of traffic really makes you learn fast. Those first terrible, awful moments of me trying to keep up with my tour guide were amusing to pedestrians and obnoxious to oncoming traffic.

Artist's rendition.

Artist’s rendition.

The Spirit Independent Film Awards were occurring at the time of my trip, and I even got the chance to bunch up on a fence and try to catch a glimpse of actors I had never heard of.

And then, with the very American meal of a burger and a milkshake, I headed to LAX to catch a plane to New Zealand.

I’d like to take a moment to thank my Uncle Jim, Bill, Ramiro, and Brent for hosting me during my time in LA.

We Gotta Get Out of This Place

The snow in Pennsylvania seems to fall endlessly. Elsewhere on the east coast, it has consumed cities, prompting several to declare states of emergency. The groundhog did not see his shadow, but are we really going to start trusting a rodent that only works one day a year?


On several occasions, I would sip my tropical beverage of choice, trying to ignore the wind outside, a howling banshee all too keen to remind me that no, despite the appearance of the sun in the sky, I would not be lounging on a patio working on my tan anytime soon.


A selfie I took last week.

Luckily, it would seem that waiting for spring is unnecessary. No, it’s far easier to just fly around the world to a more summery locale. It’s just like time travel! It’s probably about as expensive as time travel will be when we invent it, anyway.


Enter New Zealand, Australia’s little cousin and the land of panoramas and beaches, where you can just walk into Mordor with a little physical conditioning. London was actually my first choice over New Zealand. After all, who wouldn’t want to walk in the footsteps of such famous celebrities as the Beatles, Sherlock Holmes, and Jack the Ripper?


Truly, a role model for our generation.

My program of choice had other things to say on this, namely that I would need to complete a portfolio before I could go out and play with all of the international kids. By the time this shook itself out, I was limited to my spring semester, New Zealand being the only English speaking country that I could travel to.


As much as this sounds like I settled for New Zealand, I honestly think that, if I had to go back and make the choice again, I would pick this country. I have been bombarded by stories by friends, colleagues, and family members about how their respective friends, colleagues, and family members had enjoyed every minute of the experience. Bits and pieces of stray anecdote have managed to coalesce into a complete and overwhelming positive view of the country.


Furthermore, I’ve always been the outdoorsy type. From my Boy Scout days, I’ve always reveled in the opportunity to put on dorky pants and parade around the outdoors in them, an activity I’m told is called a “hike”. From there, I was able to experiment, as every teen does, with different lengths of hike with different equipment and different varieties of dorky pants. To be honest, I really miss the thrill of cresting a mountain, the burn that comes from a hard day of walking, and the relief of encountering a bathroom that doesn’t have leaves.


So yes, it sounds like a lovely place, even though alcohol is absurdly expensive and the school food is apparently lackluster. The chance to live in a dorm with all international students sounds fascinating on its own, even before the Kiwis enter the equation.


I can’t really say that I’m excited. Before you accuse me of being ungrateful, let me follow that statement by saying that, as my first long term trip abroad, I don’t know what to expect. I do expect it to be an enlightening and unique experience, but until that plane hits the ground in Auckland, I don’t think that the impact of travelling around the world will quite have sunk in.


Give it some time.


I’m Ryan Jones, and I’m looking forward to updating you on my travels. Stay tuned for details about my flight, which will likely consist of me being wedged in between the two bulkiest individuals on the plane.