1. Best experience of my life. I was waiting for the day I could leave this country since I was a little kid. I had Eiffel Towers drawn on every notebook and tons of French posters always cluttering the walls of my room. I was so ready for this adventure. Despite my excitement, I didn't set expectations for the trip; I came into it knowing I would have a positive attitude no matter what stresses and challenges it brought. Little did I know I would not only see breathtaking places at least once a week, but I'd also meet some of my best friends. I've come out of this summer feeling entirely refreshed and ready to take on the next chapter of my life. I'm another one of many to confirm that your life will actually be changed once you get back from this adventure. You don't know how much it affects you until you're sitting at home planning your budget to go back in a year. I would not be as content and at peace with my life had I said no to this opportunity.
2. Bread, Cheese, and Wine. They eat fresh French bread, croissants, an assortment of cheeses, and wine with almost every meal. While you're not allowed to drink alcohol on SCAD's campus, there is a cafe that everybody hits up for their cheap, locally made wine. These food groups are wonderful at first, but by the end of your eight weeks you will be craving something with more flavor, I promise. The market sells delicious fresh fruits, breads, and meats if, and when, you get sick of the campus food.
3. Expect to be uncomfortable. French culture is very different from American culture and they are very adamant about maintaining their French identity. They will probably tell you to be quiet when you're talking at a normal volume. They expect you to speak a bit of their language. They expect you to sort of mask any major cultural differences, (in reference to the recent ban of the burkini). The French are not always the most friendly of people, but you'll come to appreciate their culture. You'll accept that you're American and that's okay. This statement further applies to situations when you don't know cultural queues if you travel to other countries; you will probably make some offending mistakes and figure them out really quickly. Don't feel bad, just take it as a learning experience. Don't have the unfair expectation that they should adapt to the American culture when you visit; after all, it's their country.
4. You will make friends. At first it's a little bit like going to college for the first time again; you don't really know anybody that well, but you're open to the idea of new friendships. I went to SCAD Lacoste with two friends who I'd just met the quarter before leaving. By the end I had met a bunch of crazy, awesome people who will remain some of my closest friends for the rest of my life. We bonded over countless movie nights, weekend trips, glasses of wine, and 14 mile hikes. You're truly forced to get to know people very quickly when you spend every day with them. My friends truly made this experience what it was.
5. Be able to make decisions for yourself. Whether you're planning weekend trips, daily adventures, or planning out your time in Paris, be able to decide what you want to do. It's important to know what you want out of your days because you don't have many. There will be situations that arise such as having a ten minute layover at an unfamiliar train station; you aren't sitting with your travel buddies and you have to go find your next train regardless if they're with you or not; otherwise you are not getting home. You have to decide where to go and how to catch that train. Nobody will figure it out for you. Nobody is going to tell you where to go when you get lost, what to eat, and how to budget your money. It's time to grow up and figure it out. Know what you want, and figure out the best way to do it.
6. Summers are hot. While Provence is not humid, it gets hot. There is no air conditioning anywhere in France so you will sweat. A lot. On the warmest day it hit about 100 degrees, feeling more like 110 degrees, but at night it cools off.
7. Don't let the hill win. There are two locations at SCAD Lacoste: Upper Village and Maison Basse. Upper Village is where most of the students stay. It's also where the two cafes, soccer field, and chateau are located. Maison Basse is a newly renovated farmhouse with air conditioning and a gorgeous pool. Separating Upper Village and Maison Basse is a massive hill that WILL make your legs burn. Towards the end of the quarter a lot of us at Maison Basse started avoiding the hill because it truly sucks and you get a little bit lazy. We learned that if you avoid it too long, you'll go stir crazy so we'd make the hike up and find something fun to do.
8. Travel before or after you get to Lacoste. Prior to Lacoste, I stayed in Amsterdam for four days. This was the best decision I made because I not only fell in love with the place, but I got to enjoy it for more than one weekend and get everything I wanted out of the city. A lot of people are ready to leave after they're done at Lacoste, so consider planning the majority of your travels before you start the quarter.
9. Save your money for Paris. This is important! Everything about Paris is beautiful, breathtaking, and expensive. If you want to eat nice dinners, shop, do all the things you've dreamed of doing in Paris, be prepared to spend. They also don't separate checks for you, so you'll end up picking up somebody's drink here and there- don't be a penny pincher.
10. Come to Europe with data, or purchase a SIM card. The first three weeks I was without a working phone in Europe and I had to find Wifi in order to do anything. This turned out to be a big problem when I was in major cities. Sometimes you find yourself in situations where you need to find help and you need a working phone. I purchased a SIM card in the Barcelona train station for $45 which got me a Spanish phone number, 60 minutes of calling and 2GB of data. I made that last the rest of the summer and it saved my butt a few times when I got lost in Paris. When I got back to the United States, I switched back to my US SIM card and continued using my American cellular plan. It's just crucial that you have a way of communicating if there's an emergency.
11. Your professors become real people. Because this campus is so small, you get to know your peers and professors on a very personal level. We had gone to multiple different places with them and they were usually working on their own artwork after class was over. They're always open to answering questions even if you're not in their class. I'm a fashion design student who took Advanced Fashion Illustration in Lacoste; not only would I go to my fashion professor for feedback on a Saturday afternoon, I'd also take my sketchbook to the drawing professor to see if he had any input. They start to know your personality and what inspires you. I also met some of their family, (and held their adorable children) when they visited. It's enlightening to see your mentors in their own unique work flow.
12. Lavender. Provence is filled with purple. There are tons of scents, plants, and colors all around you at all times. At the peak of lavender season, there is a lavender festival where they sell all kinds of soaps, drinks, and, of course, ice cream. This overload of new plant life made my allergies flare up really bad at first; that can be combatted by buying local honey at the market and eating a spoonful every day.
13. SCAD is small, Lacoste is even smaller. I went with 90 other students and we were forced to get to know one another because there is not much to the village of Lacoste. You will find out a lot about your peers and it's best if you don't start drama; do your own thing and have a great time with your friends. Geographically, Lacoste is on a mountain in the middle of nowhere. There are two restaurants, a small market on Tuesdays, and lots of nature. If you're a person that needs to exist in a big city, this will be a reality check. When we started feeling trapped, we walked three miles to the neighboring village to go eat and change up the scene. You will be isolated and forced to confront those internal problems you've tried so hard to ignore. It's a great place to recharge and step away from a big crowd. Most importantly, this quiet time is helpful for processing creative ideas.
14. Bring the correct shoes. That second pair of cute wedges you're contemplating shoving in your suitcase? You might reconsider. Going back to the hill - it's not a paved hill. Upper Village as a whole is very steep and rocky; the stone roads are small and slippery so make sure you pack a pair of shoes with traction. You're basically living on a mountain for eight weeks so take care of your feet.
15. Focused with no distractions. One of my favorite things about this SCAD campus was that I was able to completely separate myself from any distractions I had in Savannah. There are not many people there to distract you. There are no part-time jobs, no parties, no coffee shops~ it's just you, your sketchbook, and nature. I was in desperate need of time to focus on getting better. I used this summer to not only do my school work but to practice for fun on my spare time. I was able to revive a lost passion for uninterrupted creative time and it's proven to be so important. After leaving I feel very relaxed and at peace about what I've accomplished this summer and I'm better equipped for whatever insanity fall quarter brings.
16. Don't expect fast Wifi. When I wanted to do anything besides text I would have to leave my room and find a desktop computer to work on. Some rooms are better than others, but overall the Wifi is not reliable. It's a good thing in many ways because it forces you to get your face off the screen, look up and see what's around you. The lack of Wifi forces you to slow down and step away from the demands of reality. While it's frustrating at times, it's okay to unplug for a little while.
17. Think ahead! Come with enough money to do everything you want to do. Prior to coming to Europe I worked an absurd amount of hours while balancing school and a social life. At the time it was way too much, but I got the experience of a lifetime as a reward. Europe is expensive so prepare for it and travel smart. If you want to leave for the weekend, arrange your train tickets a few weeks in advance, and coordinate your travels with a class excursion. A taxi from Lacoste to the nearest train station costs about $140 one way so either split it with your travel buddies or walk to the nearest bus stop. I traveled to Amsterdam before Lacoste; during the quarter I went to Monaco and Barcelona. These weekenders were worth every dollar and every hour of planning.
18. Learn a little bit of French before coming here. It was kind of a culture shock to arrive in the Marseille airport where nobody spoke English. I was thankful for my five years of French in high school, but it was still very hard to communicate. Learn key phrases and/or get a French phrase book to carry with you in your bag.
19. Cody and Flo! These lovely individuals are your Lacoste parents. They did way too much for us and cared for us as if we were their own children. Flo is the mother of Upper Village and Cody is the house mom of Maison Basse. Cody taught all of us at Maison Basse how to be better people and showed us how to be professional board-game players. Respect them, and remember they are real people who have lives outside of SCAD. You will quickly learn they are both amazing human beings.
20. Adventure, take risks, and get inspired. You are in Europe for eight weeks, (give or take). I would encourage you to test your limits and do something a little bit crazy. There will be stories about days when you decided it was a good idea to walk 14 miles around Provence. Get lost in Paris because you'll fall in love with it; just be smart and know how to get home. Use this study abroad opportunity to take pictures, fill a sketchbook, and be observant. Look at things and think about why you like them. Ask yourself why you are taking that Instagram picture. If you step back and think about what you love in all of these places, you will learn a lot about your personal aesthetic. Let your heart delight in all of the things you never have time to do. Go outside and watch the meteor shower, jump off the cliff at Pont du Gard even if you're terrified of heights, go into a coffeeshop in Amsterdam.