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Passport to Paris; Agriculture Edition: Rachel Isaacs - Food Science major, INTAG minor

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Posted: February 19, 2013

I never wanted to leave Paris. I came back to the US craving the buttery croissants and Nutella crepes, and wishing that I could eat duck confeit meal every day of my life.

In the spring of 2012, I participated in the INTAG 497A, Comparing the Agricultural Systems of France and the United States course and the subsequent two week trip to Paris, France. I had heard some of my classmates raving and gushing about their previous trip to France, and decided at that moment that I wanted to partake in an abroad experience too. After researching the course and doing some serious pleading and persuading to my parents, I found myself booking a flight to Paris! My parents were confused as to why I wanted to go to France. I speak no French, and I had never previously been out of the country or displayed an interest in international experiences. It was a big decision, and one that has turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.

Throughout the spring semester in class, I learned a little about the US perspective on canola, GMOs, wine, strawberries, local foods, organic foods, and agribusiness. I also learned little bits and pieces of French so that I could get by with the language barrier. IsaacsFrance3.pngUpon arrival in Paris, we went to our dorms in Cite Universitaire, which was a campus area for international students to stay in. We immediately went to a French patisserie, where I bought one of the most delectable sandwiches of my life. We went to the supermarket and compared the products in there with US products that we are used to purchasing. We walked around the Notre Dame area, and tried to stay awake as long as possible to overcome the jet lag. The next morning, we went on a tour of Montmarte and saw various historical and cultural regions. Along the way, we stopped at a patisserie that was voted the #1 Bakery in Paris in 2011!! Yum! We then walked to the Luxembourg Gardens and saw the beautiful Luxembourg Palace. Our classes started the next day, which included presentations from our Agro Paris Tech professors. That night, we went to a dinner at Montparnasse 1990, which was the most luxurious restaurant that I’ve ever been to. I tried duck for the first time, and it was the most succulent four-course meal of my life.

The classes the next few days included topics like agricultural policies, pesticides, food regulations, and French agriculture. We went to Champs de Elysee, which was paradise for a shopaholic like myself. The Arc de Troimphe was spectacular, and we went up just as the Eiffel Tower was sparkling. The view of the city was breathtaking. Our visit to Versailles the next day was amazing. We had a picnic in the gardens, and got to tour the castle (aka my future home) later. All of the gold embellishments and fascinating decorations and paintings really took my breath away. The next day we finally made it to the Eiffel tower. And it was even more magnificent than I imagined. Once I saw the Eiffel tower, it finally felt like this whole experience was real. 

The next morning, we were up at 2:30 am to go to Rungis, the French wholesale market. It was gigantic! There were warehouses of fish, flowers, meat, fruits and vegetables, and cheese. After a quaint breakfast, we went to an organic farm. The whole day was very eye-opening into the French agricultural system and the discrepancies that exist between the US and France in terms of agriculture. Later, we went to the Louvre for a few hours and soaked in a bunch of French culture. IsaacsFrance2.pngI couldn’t believe the enormity of that museum! And the Mona Lisa (in my opinion) paled in comparison to all of the other beautiful art in the museum. We went to Paris’ seven story mall, and I basically had to be dragged out (confessions of a shopaholic). They really should have some more of those here in America. The next day we went to the French Open and saw Andy Roddick get severely beaten by his French opponent. The following day was my favorite day from the whole trip. We started to day with a walking tour of Paris, then a daytime boat trip along the Seine. Later that day, we did a nighttime bike tour of the city, which ended with another boat ride. So many breathtaking sights to see! The next day was a tour of the Champagne region. We started with a visit to a Champagne Agricultural High school, and followed it with visits to two other classy wineries. We had to opportunity to see how the champagne was made and to compare the differences in champagnes.  I learned a lot about the concept of terroir and champagne AOC policies this day.

In class the next day, we had a cheese tasting and tour of the sensory lab in Agro Paris Tech. I really enjoyed this day because sensory science is my main area of interest within food science. I also work in the sensory lab on campus, so it was really cool to see the differences in how the French carry out their sensory tests compared to how we at PSU conduct our tests. We also had the opportunity to tour the French National Assembly, the US embassy, and the French ambassador’s house. This was an incredible opportunity, especially because of the high level of security and exclusiveness of these places. On the final day of class, we got a tour of the Old Library and had a rooftop cocktail party with our hosts. Before all of this, however, we gave presentations on everything that we learned since we had been in France. I couldn’t believe how much I had grown culturally as a result of this trip. My global perspective was broadened significantly after spending two weeks in Paris. I learned how to navigate the challenging metro system, and experienced how the French value their food and meals. The French stereotypes that I had heard in the US about the Parisians being snooty were disproved on this trip. The Parisians were friendly and helpful. I was able to experience and see the differences in US and French agriculture for myself. And the breadth of knowledge covered, from animal welfare to organic agriculture, was truly eye-opening.

I never wanted to leave Paris. I came back to the US craving the buttery croissants and Nutella crepes, and wishing that I could eat that duck confeit meal every day of my life. I decided that I would someday be back to live in the Versailles palace and shop till I drop at all of the quaint little shops. My trip was truly a remarkable experience, and I would encourage anyone to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime trip.