Study Tour: Nowhere But France

September 01, 2016
Julianne Suazo
            3……… Mere moments away from landing, and I tighten my grip on the arm rest.
            2……… Some are closing their eyes, afraid of a rough landing while others are excitedly peeking through the window.
            1……… “Ladies and gentleman, we have arrived in France,” I hear the sound of seatbelts being unfastened.
            I remember the first time I set my eyes on the quaint little city located in Northeastern France—the blinding golden hour sunlight seeping through the glass windows of the Gare Centrale as we first set foot on Strasbourg. With our bags and luggage held closely, we couldn’t help but be in awe as we looked at very nook and cranny of what was our very first view of Strasbourg.
            The best way to describe the France Study Tour was that it was a dream in itself—a fantasy turned reality, and almost too good to be true. There were countless moments when I felt like pinching myself only to assure myself that I wasn’t dreaming, and that I was actually in France. From watching the sunset in different parts of Strasbourg to celebrating the Holy Eucharist at the Cathédrale de Notre Dame, some of us couldn’t even help but to tear up a little as we watched the beauty of France unfold before our very own eyes. 
On our first day in Strasbourg, we had the afternoon off so we took a shot at familiarizing ourselves with the area. We wanted to know where we could get the best view of the Cathedral, where all the best restaurants were, and what streets were lined with our favorite shops. As we walked and walked, it became hard to believe that this place would be what we would be lucky enough to call our home for the next few weeks. It was difficult to realize that what we had only seen in pictures was now right before our eyes.
By the end of our first week, we had already seen or done most of the tourist favorites in Strasbourg—Palais Rohan, Strasbourg Cathedral, and the Batorama. It was only fitting that we spent the last two days of our first week exploring the Alsace region and seeing a little bit of Germany. To name a few of our group’s favorites from the first excursion weekend: Gelato in Germany, Wine Tasting in Alsace, and being in two places at once on the Rhine Bridge in Kehl.
On the second week, we had already grown used to the tram system so going anywhere we wanted was no longer hindered by our initial confusion with directions. Classes at the Ciel de Strasbourg started having a more fun atmosphere since our professors had begun warming up to us. We spent our days visiting places like La Petite France, and Musée d’Art Contemporain. On one particular afternoon, we ran around the streets of Strasbourg, chasing clue after clue as part of Le Rallye (a small version of the Amazing Race). When weekend came, we found ourselves freezing in Lucerne weather and on top of the Heidelberg castle.
Before we knew it, it was already our last week in Strasbourg. It was lucky that our timely visit coincided with the France’s annual music festival, La Fête de la Musique. Everywhere you looked, there were different musical performers showcasing their voices and instruments. Jazz, Hip-hop, Rap, and Pop music reverberated around the shops and the streets. We had such a great time that we didn’t even notice we had already walked nearly 10 tram stops amounting to 22,000 steps on my pedometer.
Our stay in Strasbourg had finally come to an end, and we were off to a Parisian adventure. Our foster parents took one last look at us, and hugged us goodbye as we reached the Gare Centrale. As locals and tourists rushed to catch their train rides to elsewhere, we eagerly awaited our bus ride to Paris. What easily caught our eyes was this group of men and women in their 20s dressed as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles running as they dragged their suitcases, hoping not to miss their train.
Every moment spent in Paris felt like magic. Visiting the Louvre, walking along the Avenue Champs-Élysées, and of course, sitting on the grass admiring the Eiffel Tower—it all felt magical. Our five days in the city put our proficiency in French to the test. Everything we had learned from our wonderful professors at the Ciel de Strasbourg came in handy in cafés, shops and interacting with the locals. Even though our stay in Paris was short, there are fond memories of each day that we would keep close to our hearts. 
We all had interesting encounters and experiences—some even too bizarre to believe. Whenever one of us would ask the moderators why such things happen, “Well, that’s Paris,” they would shrug as they flashed a coy smile.
The trip was coming to an end, and we thought to ourselves: what would be one of the last things you’d like to see of Paris? We didn’t even have to think twice. We hurriedly grabbed our things and took the next train ride to Champ de Mars. We sat down directly under the Eiffel Tower as we waited for the lights to start flickering. A group of locals next to us started blasting music and began dancing. Some of us couldn’t help but join them. I cannot remember a time I laughed as much as I did with my study tour family that night. I don’t even remember what we were laughing about but I remember feeling an ache in my stomach when we couldn’t stop. “It’s starting, it’s starting,” Murga enthused.

The Eiffel Tower lights started to dim, and I couldn’t help but feel like the dream was about to end. It was almost time to say our final good night to Paris, to Strasbourg, and to this summer that had felt like nothing but a faraway dream.  
            As we boarded the plane bound for Manila, one thing was certain: It was undoubtedly the hardest goodbye for each and every one of us. In no less than a month, we had already found a home in the heart of France, and with each other. Once upon a time we were just a group of strangers brought together by a common desire to visit the city of love but it didn’t take us a month to start treating each other like family.
As the famous novelist Hemingway once spoke, “There are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home and in Paris.” And we had found both.