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November 12, 2019

By Caroline Rinehart ’21

PARIS, France —We’re in Week 12 of Asbury University’s Paris Semester and we just returned from a weekend exploring France’s countryside. As the train left the busy city of Paris and made its way north toward the region of Normandy, there was a faint resemblance of home.

Picturesque clusters of houses and country churches replaced the large flats and cathedrals in the city. Trees robed in bright oranges and reds sat on the hills in the distance. It was like driving on Harrodsburg Road in the early stages of fall. This was the incredible scenery for the two-hour trip that lay ahead of us Asbury students.

We were headed for a two-night, three-day retreat outside of the city in the beautiful town of Morsan, Normandy. The goal? To do nothing but rest and enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of France’s countryside. A breath of fresh air was needed, and as the train pulled up to our station, we knew that a breath of fresh air is exactly what we were going to get.

Two taxis chauffeured our group of 13 to the retreat houses we would make our own for the next three days. As we exited the cabs, we were met by our gracious hosts, Dr. Steve Thrall, who teaches one of our Paris Semester courses, and his wife Miki. Dividing the group into two houses, the Thralls showed us to our living quarters. If you can imagine a Hallmark movie country house, that is what we were greeted with walking into the houses. Quaint, but beautiful. Small, but cozy. Altogether a perfect situation for Asbury students in need of a slower pace of life.

The next three days were filled with incredible memories and moments that I will remember and cherish forever. A few people played Uno in the living room, others watched movies in the movie room, some read quietly by the window, and all of us went on long walks down the country lanes with the trusty Bernese Mountain dog, Gospel, by our side. There was much happy laughter, loud and off-tune singing, and completely choreographed and not spontaneous at all dancing.

One of the best parts of this retreat weekend was all the food we were able to consume. The group was given money for groceries and cooking was up to us, so we all tapped into our inner Paula Deans and began to prepare some of the best food I have had since being in France. From spaghetti bolognese and tortilla soup, to homemade hot chocolate paired with banana bread, there was no lack of comfort food. In fact, there was no lack of comfort.

Most importantly though, Asbury students had the incredible opportunity to experience community on a deeper level. We began to know each other behind the walls we built for ourselves. There was a vulnerability we all took on that gave us the ability to share about ourselves and to listen to others share about themselves. We came to Normandy a group of very tired college students, but we came back to Paris a family. When we get back to the states, these will be the moments that stick out to me the most: the moments when we became more than a group of students studying abroad — the moments when we became family bound together by the experience of the 2019 Asbury University Paris Semester.