The Last California Cupcake

Today was a gloomy day in California.

The sky was grey and it felt like the whole world was yawning. It was, to put it simply, the ultimate napping day.

Today also marks the final stretch of working at the boutique for the summer. Only 10 days left until I have to say goodbye to this place that taught me the art of sales and conversing with entitled plastic moms. I love my boss. I love my coworkers. They've taught me so much. About life, you know.

As today's weather was muted and dull, it was a perfect day to reflect on this huge new chapter in my life that's about to begin.

How I Got to Where I am Now

I left the American University in Washington, D.C. after a year and a half of feeling out of place. The Land of Politics and Tight-Suited Business Men seemed appealing from far away for a girl who wanted to change the world, but two weeks into my time at AU and I had never disliked any place more. Get ready for a list of generalizations:

  • My school revolved around politics, something I thought I cared about when I was in the minority of liberal thinkers at my Catholic high school. As soon as I attended orientation at AU, I felt out of place. I didn't relate to the community of one of the most politically-active schools in the nation (except for my sorority sisters and close friends, they were my shining light.... Chi O 'til I Die, Yo).
  • The city was transient. Which means that there was no real identity for the population other than mostly everyone was there because they wanted to climb the ranks of governmental, business or non-profit organizations. 
  • The city was political. The biggest crime you could commit in D.C. was being politically incorrect. It was hard to get a lighthearted joke across, and no one watched Adventure Time.
  • The city was limited. Although it may seem like D.C. is one of the culture capitals in the world because of all the embassies, it's really not. I have more of a selection of quality ethnic food here in Orange County than the food available to me in D.C. Also, the population of D.C. can essentially be divided into rich white people trying to network within their tight circles versus the three quarters of D.C. comprised of minority races struggling with the terrible public education system and high crime rates. Also, fashion revolved primarily around how large your formal business wardrobe was. Lastly, I swear to God, this might be my biased California tastes talking, but I wasn't attracted to a single person during my couple of years in D.C. The selection of good-looking men was, in my opinion, non-existent. 

The whole reason I went to AU was to study international relations, something I should have known I wouldn't have liked after four years of participating in Model United Nations in high school. International relations is a cat-and-mouse game: it's all policy. Within the first few days of attending AU, a professor of international relations even confessed to me that the way schools are teaching how to change the world is wrong: It's too much theory, he said, and not enough on how to change the world. Even development is policy-focused. I wanted to study international relations so I could help people, when really the right way for me to help people would be for me to just go ahead and join the Peace Corps. 

I took a leave of absence from AU this past semester not only because I felt out of place, but because I was feeling so much pressure to start my classes for my major and I still wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. You can read my post on the Lala, the publication I write and edit for, for advice I want to give for those of you who are also struggling to find your path. If you think you're lost, you don't know the half of it. I jumped from wanting to be a musician to a criminal justice public defender to a children's art teacher to a nonprofit CEO.... and the list goes on.

But that's life, you know. You have to try everything. I'm glad I'm open to so many possibilities. Life will never be boring for me.

The Next Chapter is A Few Pages Away

As I took my quiet break from work today, silently enjoying my triple chocolate cupcake with milk, I watched San Clemente. That will be one of my favorite memories from the summer. Sitting by myself, watching San Clemente and sipping on milk, thinking of static, anxious about nothing, no deadlines or work to be completed. That's such bliss to me, and when those moments come, few and far between, they're so beautiful.

In two weeks, my life will be rekindled after this 8-month hiatus at home. I've hardly been intellectually stimulated. I am dying for schoolwork and someone to challenge me. I am dying to feel my mind racing again. I'm going to be constantly challenged at every moment of every day, because I'll be struggling to complete French sentences in a moment's notice with correct syntax and grammar.

As I sit here, idly enjoying this triple chocolate cupcake, there could not be a more symbolic calm before the storm. The next time I'll be completely idle again will hopefully come on a glorious day when I have no work to do and I'm sitting outside in Paris, enjoying a cafe and croissant. But it's OK. I am so excited for this storm. I need some adventure in my life again, some intellectual stimulation, some challenges. Looking forward to it all. xx

Les Préparations

Preparing to move to another country is no walk in the park.

In order to live in France, you have to overcome a variety of legal and logistical obstacles to prove your French worthiness. An example of the mundane tasks to complete includes figuring out how you're going to continue taking your American meds, finding a roof over your head, translating important documents to French for the notorious prefecture visits and most importantly, obtain a visa.

The Visa

Surprise surprise, this little treasure came TODAY in the mail!

I know it seems like just a little sticker in a book, but in fact, this visa is the symbol of my new legal life in Paris. I can live there for a whole year. HOW EXCITING.

The process for getting the visa isn't terribly difficult. Check out your French consulate's website for the documents you have to put together before making an appointment. 

Visiting the consulate in LA was nerve-wracking. But exciting, because it was my first opportunity in a long time to see if I could speak French well enough to trick people into thinking one of my parents was French or something. 

I dressed to impress, of course. 

Well, my French didn't flow as easily as I hoped; I was so nervous. But I could tell the guy processing my papers appreciated it. He even responded to me in French!!! I was flattered, but this probably wasn't a very good idea as now I'm clueless as to the next steps I'm supposed to take with the OFII once i'm actually in France. (LOL still too flattered to care.)

Updates on My Housing Sitch, If You Care

I've been trying to find housing through the American University in Paris for my first semester in Paris. I ideally wanted to be with children, because I love kids and I just relate to them better than the adults in this world who are constantly wearing poker faces and miscommunicating their feelings with tricky words loaded with hidden meanings. Kids are just easy. They're real. And they're fun to practice the language with.

Anyhow, I finally got my housing placement today: I got placed with a French family (WOOHOO!), which is great news for my French!!! I'll be living with a French mom and pop and their 18-year old son (oh la la) and another student at the American University of Paris. We'll both get our own rooms and private bathrooms.

And the icing on the cake? The family's apartment is located in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. AKA, diplomat and ambassador haven. All of Paris' wealthiest find their homes here. It's an absolutely stunning and totally safe area of Paris; parks abound and the Bois de Boulogne, Paris' largest park and outdoor haven, is a few minutes away.

**Heaven is a place on earth with my home stay family.......**

T-20.

T-20 days until the big move. Can't wait. Longing and dreaming of Paris every day... xx

So Who is the "Huntington" of Huntington Beach Anyway?

If you live in Southern California and the name Henry E. Huntington does not ring a bell, a thousand shames on you. 

Seriously, haven't you ever wondered where the names Huntington Beach or Huntington Hospital came from? To be honest, I hadn't, not once in my whole life. But I bet now you're wondering, aren't you...

Read on to hear my latest adventures at an attraction of southern California I had personally never heard of in my 20 years of living but draws in over 500,000 tourists a year: The Huntington Library, Gardens, and Art Collections

Good ol' Henry E. Huntington: A businessman who held a large financial empire and later dedicated large sums of his money to building railroads, developing real estate, and creating educational centers in southern California. Ah, corporate CEO's, where would we be without 'em?

Located in lovely Pasadena, California (apparently the old-town of Beverly Hills, where all the lucky rich of L.A. used to squat), the Huntington Library can only be compared to southern California's equivalent of Versailles: hundreds of acres of gardens to admire, a large mansion with many sitting and powder rooms modeled in the style of the Versailles palace, and a deceased rich person's home which is now open to everyone in the world to admire. I hope someday my tiny apartment will be of such interest to the ever-curious tourists of the future. 

If you're into botany, culture, or tea, Mr. Huntington has left a haven of all of the above for you.

Botany

There is a shit load of botany for you to admire here--I mean, you really should be expecting this; the name of the place has the word "gardens" in it.

I actually am a big fan of botany, so I really enjoyed walking through the multiple Oriental-themed gardens pretending to be the badass Mrs. Arabella Huntington herself (really, she was badass, well-respected for her choices in art collecting and home decor, go her). 

The Chinese Garden at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. 

Me and Chinese Garden architecture. 

A romantic bridge in the Japanese Gardens. It was off limits. 

There are multiple gardens you can explore throughout the vast acres of land; we visited only the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Rose Garden. That alone took about two hours, because you get lost in the mazes of exotic trees and roses that all look the same but are categorized somehow into thousands of different breeds named after different rich people. Seriously, what is the criteria for having a rose named after you??? Because I'd so be on that... 

Me, pining for the day a breed of rose will be named after myself.

Mr. Huntington also planted California's first commercial avocado garden, so, you are very welcome, California. 

Admission to the gardens is $12 for students on weekdays, so bring your student ID (or pull up your Facebook page and convince the ticket attendant that it's proof enough that you're a student at the American University of Paris...). Or, if you're really a bargain hunter, every first Thursday of the month is a free day to visit the Gardens.  

Culture

Huntington also left us his art collections for our free viewing pleasure. If you're an art history buff, or simply enjoy reading the captions on art pieces to feel more cultured and Jeopardy-ready, then consider finding some shade from the heat of the gardens in Mr. Huntington's very own crib. 

You can also get a free audio guide to accompany you on the journey through the Huntington Mansion, complete with actors' voices to make the experience all the more real. 

Tea

After all that garden viewing and art appreciating, you'll find your finger sandwich haven at the multiple tea houses and cafes.

Well, you can really only enter Finger Sandwich Land if you stop in to eat at the Rose Garden Tea Room, a busy and bustling indoor tea room complete with an hor 'doevres buffet. We made a reservation to celebrate my sister's birthday lunch, although it wasn't quite the atmosphere we were expecting for an afternoon English tea...

After brunching multiple times at The Tea House on Los Rios, a quaint little outdoor tea house complete with individual tea kettles per customer, beautiful china tableware sets, and a quiet atmosphere interrupted only by the occasional wind chime or far-off train whistle, the tea house at the Huntington Gardens was chaos in comparison.

Let me start by stating how underwhelmed I was by the selection of tea. Although there is a larger selection of hot tea, including the rose tea (absolutely divine) and blackberry tea, it was a blazing hot day and the only option we had for iced tea was a passion fruit blend. Of course, it was refreshing, but not something I'd expect from a tea house. They should really be more sensitive to customers allergic to passion fruit.

As soon as you enter the Rose Garden Tea House, you are greeted by a din of chatter, tableware, and noise from the nearby kitchen. It seems that there is hardly any room to sit--but let me advise to insist on sitting in the back room, which you would only know existed if you went to use the restroom. The back room is quiet and hardly populated while all the other bourgeoisie customers are stuffed into a bustling room that provides the antithesis to the setting of a typical English afternoon tea. It is simply not a comfortable meal.

I am complaining about this because I was literally making out with the wall, I was so squished into my seat. There was no room to shift chairs/tables or else risk being trampled by wait staff hurriedly entering and exiting the kitchen. Plus, I am doubly disappointed because we had reserved space in advance and the table was hardly large enough for five people.

A table for five...

Me, being a big fan of finger sandwiches, however, was satisfied enough by the egg salad finger sandwiches to forget to voice my complaints at the scene. Each table was also given hot scones with different assorted marmalades, which were delicious. We were able to make our getaway with a few stolen scones.

My outlaw grandma and her precious stolen scones. 

If you think you're making reservations for a quaint little afternoon tea and scones in a lush-smelling rose garden, you are sorely mistaken. You will be stuffed into an extremely cramped and ulcer-inducing atmosphere whilst you try to enjoy your tea. The wait staff is nice, though, so props to you all for making the experience a little more enjoyable!

I recommend checking out The Chinese Garden Tea House, which at least lets you dine outside and enjoy views of botany while sipping on your tea. It looked like the meals at this tea house were more substantial than finger sandwiches, including noodles, meats, and other hearty Chinese lunch options.

The Chinese Tea House provides quite a different atmosphere for tea time. 

Overall, Mr. Huntington provides a thrilling day for the ever culture-seeking tourists of the world. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes; the acres and acres of rich people land will leave your feet aching. xx

Literally the worst shoes to wear to hundreds of acres of gardens. Courtesy of Serena Mozafari. 

Finding Your Parisian Crib

To live the dream of waking up every morning in Paris, beautiful Paris, is something worth chasing, at least to me. 

But, before I go, I've got to secure a roof over my head and a bed for my sure-to-be-tired feet. 

Finding housing options in the City of Lights can seem daunting, but have no fear. There's a space, a nook, and a cranny for everyone who seeks housing in Paris with a determined eye and heart.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the scientific findings of my Parisian housing research.

Housing Options

Chambre de Bonne: Literally translated to "maid's quarters," this housing situation is what you'd expect from the name: very small studio-ettes located on the highest floor of apartment buildings. This article accurately portrays just how small these living spaces can be. Very important to note: living in a chambre de bonne means you may have to share a toilet and a shower with other tenants on the floor, and that your kitchen may be a couple of hot plates. The biggest pro (ding ding ding) is the affordability of the place. You can't beat the cost of rent for a chambre de bonne in Paris, which usually ranges around 450€ to 600€. So, although very small, these tiny apartments may find their way to your heart and be "home" for a student on a budget someday. 

A typical chambre de bonne, usually 90-135 square feet. 

A typical chambre de bonne, usually 90-135 square feet. 

Homestay: Living in a homestay is an attractive option for a number of reasons. If you're nervous about living away from home, a homestay situation will allow you to integrate into a family away from home. Also, homestay programs are oftentimes cheaper than finding an apartment, and you don't need to worry about furniture and sometimes cooking, cleaning, or laundry. Also, living in a homestay can prove to be a more culturally-enriching experience than living with other people who speak your language. It's a great option for the traveler who fully wishes to immerse him or herself in another culture and language, and I guarantee you will pick up the language more quickly than if you were living with English-speaking roommates. If you become close enough with your host family, they may invite you out to participate in activities or trips (woohoo!).

My experience as a host family for an Indian Exchange student. He really become a part of the family!

The negative aspect to a homestay is, of course, you lose a large chunk of your independence. You are subject to the rules of a family that's not your own, which may include curfews, house rules, etc. Also, you will have to make an active effort to meet other English-speaking travelers if you would like to make fellow expat contacts. This can be done easily, however, through language or academic classes, Meetup groups, and websites dedicated to organizing expatriate events (like Expatica). If I can give you one piece of advice to kick off your homestay to a great start: please don't forget to bring a gift/token of appreciation for the family.

To enroll in a homestay program, ask your school or university first if they have homestay placement services. This is a great option as usually the institution has partnerships with certain families that are known to be safe and have provided excellent experiences to other students. 

Other independent homestay placement services include Homestay in Paris and Homestay Booking. 

My family hosted an Indian exchange student several years back. An amazing cultural learning experience! 

Larger/Shared Apartments: If you're studying abroad through a university/college/language school, usually these institutions will offer to place you in either apartments with shared roommates or by yourself. Contact your university when you've decided which option best suits you.

There are reasons, however, not to go through university housing placement services. I, for one, would rather live with French-speaking girls my own age as opposed to American gals. Nothing against my people--I'd just rather be exposed as much as possible to the French language and culture as possible. As foreigner trying to find your own apartment, you have a couple of options:

  • Classified Ads: Fusac, Pap, and SeLoger, and even Craiglist for Paris all have classified ads of Frenchies trying to rent out space. You deal directly with other people in coming to an agreement, which may require French language capabilities.
  • Apartment Listings: These websites are exclusively focused on listing apartments for sale in France. Examples include French Century 21, Paris Rental, and Lodgis.
  • Vacation/Long-Term Rental Agencies: Some agencies provide a certain selection of apartments that are usually fully furnished. You can take a look at the apartments that these agencies list on their websites (Perfectly Paris, Haven in Paris, and Paris Rental). 
  • Word of Mouth: Got a friend or family member who lives in Paris? If they can ask around for you, they may be able to find an apartment with other Parisians, allowing you to skip the roommate search process. 
  • Home Swap: Ever watched the movie "The Holiday?" Well, home swapping is actually a reality for many people who want a break from their own country or lifestyle. Although it may be a long shot that someone will want to give up their apartment for an extended period of time, it may be worth checking out the Parisian Craigslist every so often to see if someone wants to swap their chic and furnished apartment for your home for several months. The best part is it's totally free housing without giving up your home elsewhere. 

I've included pictures of my own apartment in Paris for your viewing pleasure below. My family currently rents out this apartment to vacationers through the Perfectly Paris rental agency, although I will be moving into the apartment in the spring. 

Fully furnished apartments come with all basic amenities you'll need. My own apartment for rent on www.perfectlyparis.info.

My "Luxurious Laborde" fully furnished apartment for rent in the 8ème arrondissement. 

If you're interested, visit the Perfectly Paris site and select "Luxurious Laborde" to book in advance. The apartment is located in the 8ème arrondissement, in the heart of Paris and a 10-minute walk from the famous Champs-Elysées.

The apartment also comes equipped with a variety of amenities, including French cable TV, Wifi, free long-distance phone calls, and easy access to metro lines. What more could you ask for in Paris? ;) 

In case you were wondering where I will be seeking a roof over my head for the fall, I've decided on the homestay option. 

It makes sense for me: I'm moving to Paris to hopefully one day secure a job in this beautiful city, and with this dream comes the possibility of settling down and having a family. It would truly benefit me to see the French family dynamic and immerse myself in the French culture as much as possible. 

For others, who see Paris as more of a transient travel experience, a homestay may be a hindering option in regards to independence. 

For a gal who plans to live in France for a while, however, this makes perfect sense. 

I'll be updating you on my homestay adventures to come. xx

So You Want to Study in France, Eh?

Obtaining a visa to work, study, or live in another country is not easy. Many of my friends and family think I'm simply packing up my bags and getting on the next flight to Paris. Not so simple, my friends. 

My goal is to live and work in France. I've felt a pull towards the French lifestyle, culture, food, and language since I first visited. Every province in France is magical, with their own respective cheeses and wine. Paris, gloomy as it may be during the winters, is still alluring. I love the quaintness of the people, the beauty in every carefully crafted croissant. I love the rich coffee and the way French people communicate. It amazes me, how insightful and beautifully their thoughts are crafted into language. 

Before I get to live in this beautiful country, however, I must obtain a visa. 

This article written by the Haven in Paris team discusses many visa routes one can take to living in Paris. For those of you interested in living in Paris someday, you'll see that a viable option for living in a different country is taking the student-turned-work-visa route.

Living in Paris has always been a dream of mine, and if I hope to achieve this dream, I'm jumping at the possibility of a permanent residency in Pairs while I'm still a student. 

I decided to study in the City of Lights to learn the language, adapt to the culture as best I can, make connections with professors and professionals working in Paris, and land an internship during my studies that will hopefully turn into a job.

If you share the dream of someday living and working in France, and you are also a student, then read on. I'm sorry, but my expertise on how to achieve the big move to Paris is limited to the long-term student route (this does not include study abroad semesters). 

Moving to France as a student is complicated. I just read today in my Living Abroad in France book by Aurelia D'Andrea that the former president of France was super against immigration and tried to limit the amount of student visas issued because he thinks we're all rich kids who just want a taste o' dat Dom Perignon in a French discothèque for a night. And, although this may be the case for many kids my age, it's certainly not the case for me (although I wouldn't mind my first sip of Dom with a hot Frenchman by my side). 

So, in order to make the move as a student:

1. Apply to a French institution to study something that makes sense. What would employers understand you moving to Paris for? Of course, studying in Paris by itself is an experience; your mind is opened to another culture, and you gain international experience, which is great for today's resume. But, for example, it doesn't make sense to move to Paris to study math or certain sciences. I applied to the American University of Paris under the major of global communications and I plan on minoring in French. This makes sense to me--I receive a more international education of global journalism, which is what I'd like to pursue, and I get to learn a valuable language skill along the way. You'll have to do some research to determine where in France you'd like to study, whether you'd like to study at a specialized arts or language school as opposed to a more general university, and whether your education will be taught in French or English. 

Excuse the unkempt nails...When you're traveling, who sweats the small stuff?

Excuse the unkempt nails...When you're traveling, who sweats the small stuff?

2. Make sure you have a passport, or renew your passport, well before you will be ready to travel. If you don't have a passport, you can complete the forms online at the State Department website or in person at an Acceptance Facility, which includes post offices, public libraries, and government offices. All passport requests must be submitted through an Acceptance Facility, even if the forms are completed online (you must print them and submit them in person). Be prepared to take appropriate head shots for the passport and pay at minimum slightly over $100 for the processing fees. 

3. Apply to Campus France. You should start the Campus France application as soon as you've been accepted to your school. The Campus France website has a variety of resources for prospective foreign students studying in France, like helpful tips on student housing or the legal restrictions on how much foreign students can work in France. The Campus France form is tedious and you have to provide documentation for all of your activities/transcripts, but it's important to fill out the form with detail, as this information will be provided to the consulate when deciding whether to issue you a visa or not. I highly recommend filling out the form step-by-step with this guide for long-term students, as it provides extra directions that are SoooOOOOo USEFUL! You'll also need to pay for a $100 money order to be sent to the Campus France offices along with your official acceptance letter from your educational institution. The entire process will take about 3-4 weeks for you to fill out the form, send over the cash monay, and have your Campus France application validated. 

4. Make an appointment with your French consulate. There are 10 French consulates in the United States, not counting the French Embassy, and you can find the closest consulate to you here. You'll want to make an appointment no more than 90 days before you leave, but try to schedule it as early as possible, as consulate appointments fill up fast in advance. You can make an appointment and find out what documents you will need to bring to your interview here. This will be the final step for applying for a visa to study long-term in France.

5. Prepare for your big move! Once you have your visa, all that's left to do is to open a French bank account, sign up for health insurance, get an international phone plan....but fear not. Schools will oftentimes offer advice or services to help you adjust easily to your new life Paris. If your school doesn't offer resources to do so, these arrival sheets provided by the Campus France website discuss step-by-step what you'll need to prepare before arriving to France and once you're moved in. 

Prepare to live...

Prepare to live...

Oh, and throughout all this time, you should be brushing up on the language. It may seem daunting if your only knowledge of French is "Voulez-vous couchez avec moi ce soir?" But you're moving to a different country, and you should be ready to adapt to the French culture when you're out to dinner, buying groceries, or at the doctor's office. Check out my article on U lala to read about some FUN & AWESOME mobile apps that help you learn languages in a SNAP. xx