Accepting the Tourist Cliche

Guest Post By: Madeline Siu, a Senior studying Accounting and Art History. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and she studied abroad through Foster Exchange at the Paris School of Business in Paris, France, during Autumn Semester 2023.

When I was still studying in Seattle, the idea of students hopping across countries almost every weekend felt like an exotic concept. Travel within the US often demands a hefty investment of both time and money. Thus, when coming to Paris, I knew I’d take advantage of its convenient central location in the Schengen area and travel as often as I could. Embracing the quintessential study abroad ethos, I;ve spent the past month and a half traveling in, out, and around the European Union, delving into its history, vibrant cultures, and my own personal revelations. 

As a type-A person, I planned to schedule all my weekend trips early and well in advance. However, I noticed myself lost when looking at a map of Europe and drafting my travel wishlist. Moreover, my host university’s laissez-faire administration style left me uncertain with my school schedule, making it difficult to plan when I could actually be taking these trips, let alone where. Instead of relying solely on the internet’s American-centric perspective, I engaged classmates—many EU residents themselves—for advice. From my conversations with them, I received tons of recommendations and tips for my trips; Madrid for museums, Vienna for Christmas markets, Marrakech for sunshine, and much more. After what seemed like endless tabs on Google flights and Hostelworld, my itinerary was finalized. I’ve traveled to Spain, Belgium, Austria, Italy, England, and Morocco and I couldn’t be more lucky. 

One of the most striking revelations during my travels has been the deep history embedded in every country. Although the United States is undoubtedly an old country, its history pales in comparison to the medieval and ancient histories of some of the European countries I’ve visited. Initially hesitant about guided tours and “touristy” attractions, I found these experiences to be the most enriching. By walking through the city with a local, taking a cooking class, and even purchasing an audio guide at a museum, I’ve heard so many stories about the people that lived in each of these cities and their contributions to the culture that exists there today. Living out of a backpack and sleeping in a dorm with eight strangers seems like a small price to pay when being immersed in so much history. 

The routine bus rides to Charles de Gaulle airport and the repetitive packing and unpacking of my backpack have somewhat desensitized me to the novelty of travel. I often have to pinch myself when realizing I’ve been to so many places in such a short amount of time. Although it seems remarkably cliche, documenting my adventures through journaling, ticket stub collections, photos, and even a dedicated social media account for restaurant experiences has been my anchor. While primarily for personal reflection, my family has enjoyed seeing my pictures and hearing about my time abroad. Rereading earlier entries illuminates the transformation of my perspective, proving my growth during this time. My gratitude for this experience continues to grow, especially as I begin to wrap up my quarter in Paris.