Thursday, May 11, 2017



Some parts of leaving Strasbourg will be harder than others.

Those of you who know me well probably know how much I love sports. As the youngest child of an active family, my youth did not include a weeknight without a Kessler kid at a practice or a weekend without multiple games/meets/trainings. Before high school, I walked away from club soccer, travel softball, and basketball. Countless trail runs, recreational ultimate frisbee leagues, and Michigan football games have filled my void for competitive sports ever since.  Especially since I’ve started college, I’ve been really missing team sports. I’ve missed the tough workouts, and the bonds that are created as you train alongside teammates.

EM Strasbourg brought soccer back into my life, and I wish I could explain how much it enhanced my study abroad experience. I’ll try.

The #RoadtoClairefontaine

Here’s how it happened. In October, my coach posted on Facebook looking for girls to join the soccer team, specifically a keeper. Cintia brought it up with some of us girls, and we agreed it sounded like fun. I almost didn’t join with them because of my inability to speak French, but I saw where they needed a goalkeeper and agreed to give it a shot anyway. Playing soccer is something I used to love, so I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. I was really worried I would make a fool of myself because I haven’t played competitively for years, but when I showed up the first day I was handed a pair of goalie gloves… and that was that.

We practiced twice a week, and we played a number of games against other faculties of the University of Strasbourg. Our main goal, however, was to advance in the Coupe de France. The Coupe de France, or French Cup, is a tournament among French business schools, and the teams that advance to the finals get to play at Clairefontaine. It’s a huge deal, and for a young team like ours, it would’ve been even huger.

In early January, we took a 4 - 0 win over ICN to qualify for the round of 16. In late January, we played ESSEC Paris. It was a tough game, and although we played well we just couldn’t get the ball in the net for most of the game. Finally, we managed to get ahead for a 2 – 0 win. We were going to the semifinals. EM Strasbourg had defeated a well-known team, and we were one step further on the “#RoadtoClairefontaine”. I’ve been excited about a win before, but this was something else. I really saw our hard work since October paying off in this game, and I was so proud to be a part of this win.

We delayed our semifinal match against EM Lyon until early April, so we would have most of the spring semester to train. Coaches pushed us, and they kept us motivated. Unfortunately, throughout the spring we took a few tough losses and acquired a few injuries. Luckily, we were only down one player come time for the Coupe de France semifinal, but one of my defenders and I were both not at full strength. The only reason we were motivated for our match against EM Lyon is because this team pulled together. In the days leading up to the match, the give-and-take of encouragement was endless.

On April 2nd, my team and I played one hell of a game of football, but we were defeated 1 – 0, and our journey along the #RoadtoClairefontaine ended. We played one of our best games ever, but one of their shots got past me. Our defense was solid. Our mids put miles up and down the lines. Our strikers fought hard. I walked off the field proud of what we accomplished even though it wasn’t enough to advance. I don’t think I’ve never seen my teammates in any sport play with so much heart.

That Team Void I Mentioned

There were other big moments where I remembered what it’s like to really emotionally invest in a team…. Tough losses in Urban Soccer in Paris… A big win against ESSEC Paris… Losing in a shootout after playing a terrible game… Finally TIGRES victories filling my last full weekend in Strasbourg.... It all felt so personal.
Other moments where I remembered what it’s like to care for a team… Accepting a leadership role… Showing motivation in trainings… Worrying for teammates’ injuries… Encouraging the girls throughout.
And there were defining moments where I remembered what it’s like to be cared for by a team… Questions about holidays or missing family and friends… Team dinners shared in homes…  An ocean of concern when I hurt my shoulder (I can finally sleep on my right side again, by the way).

I Proudly Identify as an EM Strasbourg Storkette

I kid you not, we call ourselves storkettes. When I orgininally joined the team, I thought this was hilarious. EM Strasbourg was the place where I took my classes, but I never would’ve said EM Strasbourg is my school the way I so proudly identify BGSU, and specifically the College of Business, as my college. Playing soccer for EM changed this for me. Now, I really do see myself as a part of the student body at EM. I consider it my school. Proudly, even, because of the amazing experience I had throughout my exchange, so much of which is attributable to my involvement with this amazing team.

In a closing speech to my teammates at my goodbye dinner, I had a few things to say. In short, I told them how much it meant to me to be a part of this team, and thanked them. For everything. They gave me a poster, signed with messages and well wishes… I definitely cried reading it because it’s so sweet, but it also feels so final.  My teammate Léna gave me caramels from Brittany since I never made it to that region of France which she is from. Coaches also gave me all of my jerseys, and a captain’s band… well, really it’s a “captaine’s” band in the colors of the French flag. These keepsakes overwhelmed me because, again, they’ll be such sweet reminders of this priceless experience I had playing soccer in Strasbourg.

 What Now?

My teammates have asked me if I’ll play back in the states… My coaches have encouraged me to keep playing… I’ve explained to them it’ll be tough to find a team for “super competitive as a keeper in club until age thirteen, then seven year hiatus, then one year of training in France”, but maybe I’ll ask around. For now, I’ve signed up to play in an intern volleyball league Owens Corning is organizing, and that’s something.

I know this is what you want: 

This game was the same week I joined the team. I didn't even know the girls' names yet.
A team dinner at l'Observatoire in the fall.
Finally a team photo with almost everyone (I'm sure Marine's internship was keeping her away)
As a keeper, I'll take a snowy game over a rainy game any day.
This photo was taken in January after a cold but great game in Nancy, with a 4 - 0 win to start our Coupe de France journey.
Our team dinner at Coach and Lulu's before our Coupe de France match against ESSEC.
We were 100% as happy as this picture makes us look.
Messing around before one of our last practices.
Our final team photo taken before our match against EM Lyon. We're hiding our anxiety quite well.
Another photo before that last Coupe de France match. 
"They gave everything"
An accurate caption for Dom & me napping at the Tigres after many games on Saturday.

Cheering on our coaches between our matches on Sunday. 
My farewell dinner with the team. (Thank you again for this.)

I could make this post longer, but I won't. My teammates, coaches, and other friends I met along the way, thank you so much for making me a part of your lives.

Love, Jules
BGSU friends, I promise to falcon screech at every first down,
but please understand I'll always be a storkette at heart.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Saving the Best for Last

Call me an itty-bit biased, but when I think of my favorite place in Europe, Portugal stands out in my mind. 
This is Pena Palace in Sintra
Before coming back to the United States, my last priority was getting back to Portugal to see my dear friend Francisca. When Francisca and I lived together first semester, we were each others' first friend in Strasbourg, first confidant, first pseudo-mother, last goodnight (in Portuguese: boa noite), etc. In a period of four months, as I have previously described in this blog, Francisca became a sister to me. Our apartment became a home to me because of her, and her country feels like a home to me now as well. Getting back to Portugal before I came home to the states was super important to me, and I'm so glad it worked out.

After my trip to Castellane, France and before my visit to Lisbon, Portugal, I fit in quick trips to Barcelona and Madrid, Spain.
Barcelona was beautiful, and the weather was much better than the last time I visited. I experienced my first Airbnb disaster, but maybe a few years from now I'll look back and laugh at that one... Like probably not, but maybe. Kiersten and I enjoyed meeting up with her dear friend, Phoebe, and we had an amazing lunch at a paella restaurant right off the beach before enjoying an afternoon in the sand. Overall, Barça was everything I wanted it to be, and it was really fun to come back to a beautiful city when the weather was beautiful as well. 

Madrid was amazing as well, and I loved the slightly unusual social dynamics of this trip.

  • Firstly, I went to Madrid alone. All alone. To some American college students (shall I specify females?), solo travel is quite intimidating. I must say, there was nothing intimidating to me about this version of solitude.
  • Next, I should correct that this solo travel included visiting a couple friends. My first day in Madrid I met up with one of my closest friends from Strasbourg, Sergio. He showed me around the city a bit, and his girlfriend knew an amazing outlook spot to show me. This "reunion" was my first reminder that the world is big, but it'll never be too big to keep up these friendships.
  • A goofy part, quite possibly my favorite part of traveling alone, is the ability to meet travelers along the way. On a walking tour in the afternoon, I met a group of French people who were super fun and kind, and they invited a Swiss girl and me to join them in the evening for tapas and drinks. I swear this was an amazing last night out in Europe even though I had just met these friends. Their travel stories and welcoming attitudes will inspire me for a long time.
  • Then, the following day I ventured out to Alcalá de Henares to see Kelsey and Mary. It was so exciting for me to explore the little Spanish town that they've called home this semester, especially after getting to show them Strasbourg in January. We enjoyed all types of tapas and churros before we had to say goodbye. Goodbyes with these girls aren't even sad anymore because we all have such exciting plans for the times in between, and so soon Kels and I will be living together again in our perfect little college house.
  • Finally, I took my LAST OVERNIGHT BUS (EVER?) from Madrid to Lisbon.

Day One: Francisca took me to NOVA because she had a class, and I needed an excuse to hang out with another Strasbourg best friend, Tomás. Tomás bought me a cider, and we both laughed at how uncomfortable it was for me to be drinking on his university's lawn. It was fun to catch up with Tomás, and it was a little bit crazy how comfortable I felt at NOVA. Tomás showed me around, and I recognized a number of people I'd previously been introduced to... I really enjoyed hearing that Tomás may be headed to Canada for an exchange during his Master's Program, which means I'll probably find a chance to see him again in the near(ish) future. 

After hanging out at NOVA, Francisca and I got lunch at a hamburger joint. It was so sweet of her flatmate to suggest we get burgers since I'm American, and I have to say they were really good. Francisca is a doll and took me around Lisbon to an outlook I hadn't seen before, and we lost track of time talking about everything from friends to internships to family, boys, unrealistic dreams, etc. There's something so sweet about old friends who just get you... I swear when Kika and I talk to each other there's hardly ever any backstory because we know so much about each other that we can just ramble, and we know the other will make all of the connections along the way... Conversations in moments like these are so precious to me, and I think we both treasured this time. 

In the evening, Francisca drove us out to her home in Setúbal, where her parents live, so we could have dinner together. I was hoping I would get the chance to see Kika's family, so I was very excited when Francisca told me we would head out to Setúbal for dinner. We had an amazing dinner, and this was easily one of the most sentimental meals I had in Europe. Being in her family's home feels so comfortable, and I feel so welcomed and loved there. Our apartment in Strasbourg was great, but there's something so sterile about the green and white of 415 La Marne... her home in Setúbal, like her family's home in Arganíl where we went for Christmas, is so much more of a loving family's atmosphere. I shouldn't be surprised by this, but Kika's parents insisted on sharing amazing cheeses and local wines with me... I can't wait until someday when Francisca can visit me and my family, so we can return these favors. 

Saying goodbye at the end of this meal was harder than I expected. Francisca's mother insisted that I not thank her, and reminded me that I always have a home with them in Portugal. Her father gave me a magnet from Piódão that I'll include a picture of, and again he surprised and amazed me with his ability to communicate with me. English was the primary language used, but nonverbals with family, even pseudo-family, are just as powerful as words. 

Our second day flew by. I knew it would, but I still hated to see the hours ticking by. We got amazing pasta for lunch with Tomás, and I begrudgingly said my "goodbye for now" to him. Then, since it was a beautiful day despite forecasts for heavy rain all day, Francisca drove me out to the point on the coast of Portugal that is Europe's westernmost spot, and we continued on to Sintra, an amazing town in Portugal with an amazing castle built in the days that it was controlled by Spanish kings. We enjoyed local pastries, and I enjoyed laughing as Francisca translated conversations where Portuguese school kids heard Francisa and I speaking in English and decided that Francisca must not be Portuguese. 

In the evening, Francisca and I had dinner and hung out with her friend, Martim. I love Francisca's friends, and I always laugh to notice how similar they are to both our friends in Strasbourg and my friends back home. Perhaps the most amazing part of spending the whole year abroad is realizing how similar people are all around the globe. We all have our quirks and the things that make us special and unique, but beyond it all we're so similar... We still look for the same qualities in friends, and we all still hold quite similar values. It's a cool phenomenon to notice firsthand. 

Francisca took me to the airport at 5:30am. She was a heartbreaking goodbye, but I was too half-asleep to cry this time around. As hard as it was to say goodbye to Francisca, this is one friend I am confident I will stay close with forever. We've promised that we won't ever go more than five years without seeing each other, and we both agree that's a very do-able amount of time. Hopefully, we'll make it less than that at least here in the next few years before our careers or family life consume us (and hopefully that never happens anyway). Francisca, I love you. I always will. I'll keep you in my heart. Forever. 
Goodbye for now but definitely not for long, Portugal.
the gift from Francisca's father <3
...and this is the sunset that night. I swear Portugal loves me back.
Writing these blogs about the ones I miss is emotionally exhausting, but at least I can curl into a blanket with my mom, our pup, and a big bowl of ice cream my dad stocked in the freezer. 
Love, Jules
Why would I be sad when I'm back with my momma?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Marseille & Verdon Gorge

My last trip around Europe included a few days in both Marseille and the Verdon Gorge
Hiking outside of Castellane in the Verdon Gorge


After my final exams, I did some exploring in France. I hide my face as I admit that this was the first trip I took in France besides a few trips to Paris, one soccer game in Nancy, and day trips to other Alsatian towns.

I went on this trip with a friend from BGSU, Kiersten, and we had a lovely time. Marseille was charming, and two days gave us plenty of time to rest in the evenings while still seeing all of highlights in France’s third-largest city. We stayed at an Airbnb, and our host was oh so kind. One night she insisted on sharing wine and talking French politics with us for a bit. She didn’t really speak English and I don’t really speak French, but a little bit of patience and a lot of gesturing went a long way. Also, thank goodness Kiersten has studied French for a little longer than I have.

Marseille itself was quite nice. The old port was a perfect center to work from as we explored different areas of the city. I particularly enjoyed visiting Cathédrale de Major, and then later taking a longer uphill journey to Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. We also had time to shop around, although baggage constraints make saying “No” to souvenirs and cute clothes just as easy as budgetary constraints at this point.

Look at Marseille:

Verdon Gorge

After Marseille, Kiersten and I were both super excited to go to Verdon Gorge. It was Kiersten’s idea… she found pictures of the gorge while looking around on Pinterest one day, and I lucked out big time by agreeing to join her. There are a few places I’ve traveled this year that truly took my breath away, and this was one of them. The water was shockingly bright. The land was remarkably unaltered from its natural state. The people smiled and greeted each other as they walked by. I think I could’ve stayed in Verdon for a month without tiring of its beauty and its restful essence. (If you're considering making this trip, please please please message me, so I can tell you how to get to the gorge/ Castellane from Marseille or Nice. It's not easy, and it's not straight-forward, however, it is worth it.)

Not only was Verdon beautiful, but Verdon was really good to us. Kiersten and I lucked out by finding an Airbnb in Castellane. Really it’s a normal B & B, but they use Airbnb as well for travelers like Kiersten and I to find them. Petra and Leo, our hosts, were wonderful, and I'd totally recommend this accomodation for anyone heading to the gorge: BNB Castellane.  (Again, please don't hesitate to message me if this is something you're considering!) Each morning, we woke up to a wonderful breakfast spread, and Petra insisted we take leftovers for sandwiches both days. They also recommended a wonderful spot for dinner where Kiersten and I both got the best ravioli alfredo made with incredibly fresh ingredients and served in incredibly sizeable portions... These two days really were a dream. 

Our full day in Verdon Gorge, Kiersten and I spent the morning hiking and went kayaking in the afternoon. It was still technically not peak season, so we were able to book kayaking the day of, although this is not recommended. Roman from Buena Vista rafting took us on an amazing kayaking adventure through the gorge, and this day was exhausting and wonderful. We made friends with a Dutch boy and his grandfather who were on this kayaking trip as well, and I have to say we were all impressed by this older gentleman. The fact that he kept along just fine makes me feel like I can't complain about the rafting experience, but I have to say it was quite a workout and by the end my (still slightly injured) right shoulder was pretty done.  

While we weren't hiking or kayaking or sharing meals with our hosts, we spent our time in Castellane reading great books and catching up on some much needed sleep. There's such an understated value to traveling to places like Castellane where you can spend a few hours a day relaxing without "missing out" like you do in bigger cities if you head back home early in the evenings. While this year was really an amazing opportunity to go on city trips throughout Europe, I completely understand why Americans love Florida vacations, and why my family loves escaping Up North to Murph's Camp in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Restful vacations are different than city trips, and although both are quite nice, right now I want to hide from cities for a bit. 

Here are pictures of our adventures in the gorge:
Roman jokingly suggested I do a back-flip into the gorge... Challenge completed.

These adventures were a complete joy, and I owe many thanks to Kiersten and the other special people who helped me experience these amazing days in the south of France. 
And thanks to Stephanie Danler for writing "Sweetbitter",this real gem of a book.
Keep your eyes peeled for my next posts! I'll be playing catch-up for the next little bit, and it's slow going because I'm trying to soak up all of the time I can with my family this week!

Love, Jules
"Wander with wonder and the whole world becomes home." -Tyler Knott Gregson
Strasbourg friends please laugh at me for my basic American girl moment,
but it's really really good to be home.