“This will be an unforgettable trip.”
The thought always made me smile even if it only slightly eased the worry that had my
stomach in knots.
A twelve-day study abroad to London and Paris. This trip would be a trip of firsts. First
time flying internationally by myself. First time to Europe. First time on a study abroad. First trip
with people I hardly knew.
The unknown frightened and excited me. So much to see and to do in such a short time. So many memories to make. So many things to go wrong. Online research told me what to expect from some of the places we’d visit and some places to look forward to. As I gained more information about the trip, the knots in my stomach slowly unraveled themselves.
The time ticked away. I eventually found myself with my bags packed, itinerary ready, and fears mostly quenched. My heart raced in my chest as I nearly ran throughout the airport to get to my departure gate. Soon after, the plane was ready, and the doors were open. Ready for me.
This is it. It’s finally here.
Tightening my grip on my bags, I smiled and walked onto the plane.
Grace A. Tanner
It is fitting to start this piece by talking about the woman who inspired this trip.
Grace A. Tanner was an incredible woman who was academically inclined and inspiring
to everyone who met her. Funded through Tanner’s generous descendants and planned through the diligent faculty of the Grace A. Tanner Center at Southern Utah University, this trip was to honor Tanner’s memory and to honor her own trips to Europe with her beloved husband, family, and friends. We followed in her footsteps and visited many of the same places she visited.
I thought about the life Tanner lived and enjoyed going to the places and seeing the things she loved. It was an honor to Follow Grace on this trip.
My first impression of London was gray.
Clouds hung low and darkened our sunny sky as the plane dipped
below them to land.
Five days in London were not enough to see everything. Even
months there would not be enough to see it all. My eyes were drawn to
anything and everything as they tried to take it all in at once. The old but
beautiful buildings. The faded red telephone booths with posters and ads
plastered over the sides. The small cars and tall tour buses that drove on the left side of the road. The short stoplights that were placed on street corners and sidewalks instead of hanging above. The light switch for the bathroom was set on the wall outside of the room instead of inside. I even found myself fascinated with the wrought iron gates on every street and surrounding the gardens and parks.
My mouth watered with every bite I ate in those five days. Traditional English breakfasts,
scones, fish and chips. Most were more savory than sweet but gave me the energy I needed get through the long days of walking around and traveling through the city. Tall buildings towered over us, and the familiar grid-like pattern of the city guided us as we navigated above and below the ground. Dreary weather followed us. The blue sky rarely graced us with its presence but showed us more of its gray clouds and even the occasional fall of rain.
The entire city was foreign yet sometimes familiar. An incredible place to stay.
The city of love. The city of light.
Both are apt descriptions of the amazing city. Although city of lovely food and delightful
places would also be appropriate. The similarity to London helped me to transition easier to the new country despite this new city being vastly different than cities I had visited before in the United States.
Where the streets of London were boxy grids, the streets of Paris were made up triangular and oval buildings with a few rectangular buildings, all competing for space. Like London, my eyes were drawn to everything and demanded my attention to see everything I possibly could. The same old and towering buildings greeted us but with more wear from their years of existence. The sun rarely stopped shining and gifted us its light and warmth. Cobblestone roads and walkways guided us throughout the city as we explored.
The language change was a little shocking and terrifying at first. I was in a foreign country where I only knew how to count to ten and say hello in the country’s native language. We learned a few words and phrases to help us survive and interact with others along the way. Merci. S’il vous plaît. Parlez vous anglais? All essential and helpful.
Pastries, bread, and sweets sustained us throughout the day. My mornings started with half of baguette and pain au chocolat along with my breakfast, and I bought more treats as we went. Every treat was more delicious than the last. Perfect fresh fruit adorned each treat which caused most of what I ate to be nearly too beautiful to consume. The macrons nearly dissolved in my mouths and were always gone too quickly.
I wish I could have stayed longer.
Buildings, Museums, and Chapels
We visited so many places and could have easily spent days at each place. It was fascinating to see the treasures of the British Museum and the secrets and stories of the Tower of London. The art of the National Gallery was inspiring, and Monet’s Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie were indescribably lovely. The Louvre was filled with enough history and beauty that I could have spent the entire trip inside and still would have been able to find something new. These and many more places we had the opportunity to visit were incredible to see and visit.
Thousands of years of history in only a few cities and towns. True beauty and memories in the art. History in every piece left behind by ancient people.
As part of our trip to see each new place, we had been separated into smaller groups to lead everyone around each city to the specific places we were scheduled to see. We were wayfinding. I was in the first group on the first day in London. We had our directions from searching online before coming on the trip, but the familiar feeling of worry filled me as we took our first steps. What if we led everyone in the wrong direction? What if we got lost? Our confidence grew as we led our group first to the British Museum and later to the British Museum of Natural History. Even if we didn’t always know exactly where we were, we could figure it out and find our way to where
we needed to be.
Some places left me speechless from their beauty and elegance. Westminster Abbey had ornately decorated tombs, picturesque windows, and intricately created walls and ceilings. The simplicity and elegance of St. Paul’s Cathedral took my breath away. A place for anyone to worship in a peaceful setting and take a break from life’s worries. I was moved from the lovely organ music that filled the space. The Palace of Versailles was a place designed to be beautiful and bright. Time was invested in everything from each individual stair to the gorgeous painted ceilings.
One place in particular that I enjoyed visiting was the Chartres Cathedral and seeing the
stained-glass windows. Each window had vibrant colors and told a story about Jesus Christ or was a story from the Bible. At the time the Cathedral was built, the windows were paid for by richer families or groups of people according to their professions like blacksmiths or carpenters. I particularly liked the window that told the story of the Prodigal Son which was paid for by a group of prostitutes. I thought this was powerful because it showed that the chapel was available for anyone and everyone to worship in, not just people who had money or class. Anyone could belong and find place there.
Each place we visited was filled with history and beauty. It was a striking experience to
behold everything with my own eyes.
In honor of Tanner, we ensured that we took the time to go see Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the rebuilt Globe Theater since Tanner thoroughly enjoyed watching
plays. It was entertaining to see the directors’ ideas of how to show the play like changing the time period of
the play. I loved being able to sit in the Globe Theater to watch one of Shakespeare’s plays and was especially grateful for the chance to sit instead of standing the
entire time. The performers brought the stories to life before our eyes.
One word I would use to describe the Underground Metro both in London and Paris would
be organized chaos.
So many different tracks, routes, and stations. It was a convenient way for all of us to easily travel, but I had never traveled underground before and rarely traveled on a train. We had to find the right station when we were above ground, take the correct train while making sure it was going in the direction we needed to go, and get off at the right stop. It became even more complicated and confusing if we had to switch trains. When we traveled as a group, we had the additional stress of making sure everyone got onto the right train before the doors closed and had to worry about which car to enter to make sure we could all fit and mostly stay together.
It became easier the more we did it. By the time our time in London was over, I finally felt
more comfortable navigating the underground stations. However, that all changed in Paris.
Everything in Paris seemed to be rushed. An ear-splitting noise would sound in what
seemed like seconds after they opened, warning the boarder to get on quickly or risk being smashed into the doors or left behind if you weren’t quick enough. Every sign was in French, and the routes seemed to be even more complicated than the routes in London which meant it was very easy to get lost. Although, by the end of our stay in Paris, it was as easy to navigate as London had been. An underground adventure to say the least.
The Eiffel Tower
The buildup and anticipation were all worth it.
The Eiffel Tower. The beauty and elegance were indescribable considering in that in the simplest terms it was a metal tower. The way the iron bars, beams, and pillars crisscrossed
and overlapped from the bottom of the legs to the point at the very top. During the day, its light bronze color attracted the attention of every passerby. At night, it was a beacon of light to the entire city.
During our short time in Paris, I was able to visit it three times. Once inside and twice
On my first visit, despite a small fear of heights, I made the journey up nearly a thousand
feet to the very top with the group our very first night in Paris. It was incredible to look out at the city and see the lights twinkle and shine from the buildings and streetlights.
The second visit, I went with two others from our group. We left our hotel once it was dark outside and traveled to a spot nearby. We settled a little ways away near the River Seine in time to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle. At exactly ten o’clock at night, little lights lit up the tower and flickered on and off which appeared as if the lights moved. The tower glittered and brightened the sky with its lights.
The third time I saw the tower was at the very end of an unforgettable river cruise on the
Seine that we went to as a group. We had such an incredible time while we floated up and down the river to the music of a talented live singer while tasting delicious food we had never tried before. I had escargot, sea bass, and even tried duck liver. We saw some of the chapels and museums we had seen throughout the past few days from the river as the sun slowly set and as little twinkle lights turned on throughout the boat. As we were pulling up to dock at the very end of the cruise, we ended up near the Eiffel Tower just as it began to sparkle. The last time we would see it since most of us were leaving to return home. It was bittersweet to see it as our night and trip ended. Despite that, seeing the Eiffel Tower was a wonderful way to end off an enjoyable and relaxing cruise.
Each visit to the tower was awe-inspiring and moving. I have heard stories for years about this beautiful tower, and I am grateful to have been able to see it for myself.
As before-mentioned, I don’t speak French.
This was one of the worries I had about going to Paris when I was first told about the study abroad. I learned a few phrases in the time I had and practiced a few times with my brother and one of the girls on the trip with us who spoke French. She was kind enough to help me and some of the other students with phrases and pronunciation.
When I was in high school and even my first year of college, I learned Spanish. When
attempting to use the French phrases, my mind tried to give me the Spanish words first which one morning ended up being a funny story.
“Bonjour. Pouvez-vous me dire quel est votre numéro de chambre?”
One of my first mornings in Paris, I could only stare blankly at the smiling hotel worker
who was attempting to talk to me. I stood with a cup in hand, waiting for my turn to get a glass of water with my breakfast. As he spoke to me in French, I scrambled around inside my mind for the right words to convey to him that I had no idea what he was saying.
Before I could say anything though, the man’s eyes lit up with understanding at my
expression. “Oh, English?” he asked with a slight accent.
“Sí.” My eyes widened. “I mean yes.”
I nearly face-palmed. Instead of giving me the French word for “yes” which is “oui,” my
mind gave me the Spanish word.
Luckily, the worker only inclined his head. “Yo hablo español también si tú prefieres.”
Spanish. To my utter surprise, he was speaking Spanish to me and was willing to speak to me in Spanish if that was what I preferred. I didn’t know how to tell him I had meant to say oui and eventually told him that I spoke Spanish which was how I ended up having a conversation in Spanish in France. He asked me for my room number which had been his original question, and then, he went on his way.
My next attempts at the actual language of France went better. The first full day in France, I was in a smaller group while we were exploring. We stood outside of a bakery for a few minutes while mustering up the courage and remembering our French to buy
some food. It only got better from there. I was able to order food and treats in French whenever I was hungry for the rest of our time there even if it wasn’t perfect and
even if I messed up.
Even despite my lack of French speaking skills, I was proud of myself for trying to speak
the language and embraced my mess-ups. At the very least, they are fun stories to laugh about now.
Pillars of Meaning
At most of the places we went to, we were tasked to think about how each place could
relate to one of the four pillars of meaning learned about specifically for this study abroad.
Belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence. Each of the four pillars can help us to find meaning in the experiences of life. We could have a more meaningful experience by finding a sense of belonging at places like St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Chartres Cathedral. We can find purpose in our lives by looking at what people have left behind in history at the Louvre and figuring out what we are going to leave behind. Going to see Julius Caesar and The Mousetrap teaches us to tell our stories by focusing on the essential moments in our lives and seeing how those moments have helped us to become better. The moments of transcendence that we find our lives like being able to see the Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie gives us the time to be free from worries and to connect with the world around us.
Taking the time to pay attention to how each place connects to a pillar of meaning allowed me to find more meaning in the world around me. I felt like I belonged, like I had purpose. I could tell my story and have moments of transcendence. I found meaning on this amazing trip to Europe.
I wish the trip had been longer, but I am truly grateful for my time in Europe.
The adventures and experiences of this trip could easily take up twenty more pages. I
wanted to focus on the experiences that meant the most to me even if all of them meant something to me.
It was a trip of firsts. I flew internationally by myself for the first time and gained new
skills on how to travel more efficiently. It was my first time to Europe where I was able to go to
two different countries and experience the unique cultures and histories of each place. It was my first study abroad, and even though it was short, I learned more about finding meaning and learned that I can do things I didn’t think I could. I can fly internationally, I can navigate the
underground, I can convey what I want in a language I don’t speak. I started this trip barely knowing the names of the people in the group and came home with new friends.
It is bittersweet to look back over the trip and to remember
everywhere we had seen and what we had been able to do. I will remember
this trip for years to come and am already looking forward to my next trip
As the plane took off from the airport to take us home, one thought ran through my mind
over and over again as I watched Paris disappear.
“This was an unforgettable trip.”