#GustiesAroundTheWorld: Dispatch from France

Sophie Leininger blogs from the January Interim Experience course Sport and Culture in France.
Posted on January 26th, 2018 by

A group of Gusties poses on the Eiffel Tower.

We made it.

Eleven hours, two airports, thirty-eight suitcases, too many plane pretzels, and lots of yawns later, we arrived in Paris, France.

Over 3,500 miles from Saint Peter, we boarded a bus at 7 a.m. local time and headed to the Stade de France, the country’s national soccer stadium, for our first tour. We ignored the fact that it was the middle of the night back in Minnesota with a mix of excitement, nerves, and curiosity. There was a big day ahead of us…one I had been anticipating for quite some time.

Watching the buildings get taller and taller as we neared the famous city, part of me didn’t think it was real. When I had first arrived at Gustavus, I had never traveled outside of the country. (I could count a couple of hockey trips to Winnipeg, but that would make this less dramatic.) Falling in love with the College over my four years, I could never quite get myself to make the decision to follow one of the many opportunities to spend a semester away in a new country. But after welcoming more and more friends back to campus from places all over the world and listening to their exciting stories, I knew I had to push myself out of my comfort zone. Then, a perfect opportunity presented itself in the middle of my third year on campus when the January Interim Experiences for the following year were announced. One of the international trips featured a course focused on exploring sport and culture through firsthand experience in France. Alongside many of my teammates from the women’s soccer team, I signed up. And the wait began. My participation on the soccer team has been an integral part of my college experience and the chance to study French history, travel the country’s cities and stadiums, play soccer with local residents, and gain a better understanding of the sport’s role in the French culture was an opportunity I could not miss.

The bus slowed as we circled the massive stadium, a place I had only ever seen on television. The site housed the French National Soccer Teams and important musical and cultural events, boasting the ability to host 81,338 spectators. We walked through the never-ending bleachers, picturing a game on the pitch below and imagining the deafening cheers of lifelong fans. We visited the locker rooms, posing in front of the famous names on the backs of the hanging jerseys. It still didn’t seem real, even when we used the same bathroom as Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry.

Boarding the bus again, we headed to the heart of the city. We visited the Place de la Bastille, the Notre Dame de Paris, Sacré-Coeur, the Arc de Triomphe and other historic sites. Capturing the true significance and beauty with an iPhone camera is not quite possible, but the group certainly tried. On any other day, the brisk wind and rain might have detracted from our mood, but knowing we had 14 inches less snow than our Minnesota friends, we happily stood on the second tier of the Eiffel Tower and beamed in front of the camera, our matted hair and mud-stained clothes irrelevant for the moment.

Gustavus students visit the locker rooms of the Stade de France.

That night, we had a warm welcome at a local restaurant, greeted with smiles and “Bonjours” as we sat down to end the busy day. As the first course was graciously placed in front of us, we began to eat. However, even with the long wait with months to prepare, and hours in the classroom practicing short French phrases and learning respectful etiquette, we seemed to have missed one small detail.

“Do not eat that!” our tour guide exclaimed from the table with our chaperones. “The soup is coming!”

Hungry and naive, we had all begun to eat the vegetables in our bowls, thinking the word “soup” on the prepared menu may be a little different and a lot more solid than we understood it to mean at home. However, as the waiters chuckled with our tour guide while pouring the soup over the vegetables on their second trip, we quickly understood our mistake. We joined the laughter, the embarrassment quickly fading as reality hit: we were finally here. It wasn’t the first mistake of the trip, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last, but I still consider it a perfect first day.


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