Ideal vs. Reality

I write this as I sit on the Eurostar train on my way to Cambridge. I am so excited. Now I know I said I was excited for Paris, but this time its for real. You see: my time in Paris was not everything that I thought it would be. The city of love, lights, and dreams had become a bit of a nightmare. My first few days were blissful. I had a lovely hotel with a wonderful view, air conditioning, and I learned my way around via Uber. But once I got to Cite Universitaire things turned sour. During my time in Paris I ended up sleeping in four different beds. In my second night at the university I was about to settle down to go to sleep when I noticed a small bug on my bed as well as a bloodstain. I lifted up the mattress, and sure enough, I had bed bugs. I immediately called my professor for help and after three hours of dealing with security because reception was closed, and lugging my over packed bags two miles across Paris to another dorm, I was finally in a new room. But it didn’t end there. Because once I got to that new room it turned out to be a bathroom. Then the door handle broke off. Then the key to my new bedroom didn’t work so I had to go down 6 flights of stairs to get security to let me back in. After I was let back into my room the man looks at me sternly and says, “You’re in for the night,” and locked the door behind him. I had to hold my pee for a long time.

In the morning my professor helped me to get a new room closer to the other students, as no wanted me to be isolated. So with the help of my friends I lugged my bags back across the uneven streets and up two flights of stairs to my new digs. The room was bigger, and had a fridge so that was nice. But the man staying in the room across from me? Not so much. He would say suggestive things to me in the hallway and I made the mistake of asking him where the showers were. That night when I took a shower he was standing in the communal shower hall listening to me as I bathed. I had waited it out until he left. The next night he tapped and raked his nails on my door when I went to bed and would say “Ca va?” over and over. (Ca va means how is it going.) I had trouble falling asleep that night. My wonderful fellow students in my program offered to help me out if he ever came to my door again, but they were in a different building, and I would have to let them into mine.

But aside from bed bugs, bed hopping, creepy men, and dirty showers, Paris did have moments of wonder. Every street I turned down had a picturesque view, and the French people aren’t as grumpy as they are often made out to be. I was able to use my French a lot this trip, and it was nice to have moments of connection with someone of a different culture as we both struggled to understand what each other were saying. (In a good way, I swear!) I also got to see such wonderful art and absorb all of the history in the streets.

I have learned a lot about American privilege on this trip so far. In the USA A/C isn’t uncommon and things are much cleaner, including the people. Americans are loud and proud and we have all of the space that we want to do so. But in Europe things are hot and stuffy, people are quiet and keep to themselves, and everything is so much smaller. As an American I have grown accustomed to the dirty looks I would get if I laughed too loud, asked for a larger size, or just expected something that is a given in America, but a luxury in Europe. I have complained and whined a lot so far this trip. Some of it was PMS, but often times it was because I was without my creature comforts that I have grown so accustomed to. I shudder to think what my friends who have stayed in third world countries would think of me for complaining about my time in Paris. I want to make it clear that I am so very grateful for the opportunities that I have been given and how lucky I am to have embarked on this adventure. My complaints and whines are falling on deaf ears. No one cares. There is nothing I can do about my situation, and that is perfectly okay. I plan to learn and grown from this experience and make the absolute most of it. This is an adventure, and you can’t have an adventure without trials and tribulations.

Before I sign off, something needs to be said about my fellow students. I have fallen in love with them. Every last one of them. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to look back on this trip so far and smile as wide as I am. All 14 of them are extremely bright and intelligent individuals. They truly shine. It doesn’t matter whom I’m walking next to at any time, because whenever I turn my head I have a new friend at my side ready to engage in an interesting and vibrant conversation. I have learned so much from my fellow peers thus far, and as we make our way to Cambridge I can’t help but think of all of the good times to come.

I am so excited for Cambridge. I have friends to accompany me and cool British air waiting when I get there.

Until next time,

Shanna.

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