It has officially been a week since I left Paris, and I guess my feelings can be summed up in the following three categories: the good, the bad and the beautiful.
Studying abroad entails much more than its name. Yes, I was studying and applying what I learned 24/7. However, there’s the emotional side to it all. Being away from my family and friends in a foreign city/country/continent with, oh yeah, a foreign language. I encountered every emotion from anger to joy to frustration to sadness to inspiration to fearlessness, and everything in between. Here’s probably the greatest good that came out of this trip, the life lessons I learned:
- Be flexible/don’t have expectations- I can say with 100% honesty that every single plan I ever made in Paris was thwarted in some way. Not ONE TIME did everything go as I had imagined in my head. Sometimes the train was closed and I had to take a 30 minute detour. Sometimes it rained when I wanted to have an outdoor picnic. Sometimes I got so lost I never found the park to have the picnic. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this lesson til the end, but it radically improved my experience when I did. I have to be flexible- I’ll get there when I get there. As long as I’m healthy and confident, I can make the most of my day regardless of XYZ. After all, isn’t it true that some of the sweetest things in life come from the unexpected?
- Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you’re lonely- I literally did not know a single person and that frightened and excited me at the same time. While I began making new friends, I relied on the support and encouragement of my family and greatest friends at home. I also found comfort in my homestay roommate, who proved to be a tremendous blessing on this trip. Thank you to everyone who reached out, especially on the days when I felt like giving Paris the old boot. I may have been alone, but I knew I had people counting on me to explore the city and culture I’ve been studying. So glad I did. Don’t be scared to do the same. My journal became a very important part of my journey…getting to know myself was an adventure in itself.
Since leaving Paris, I have been traveling around Europe with my family, namely to northern France, Germany, Holland and now England. It’s incredibly interesting to me how I expect things to be similar in these other countries as it was in Paris. How wrong I am! Here are the bad customs of Paris that I’ve learned to appreciate are different around the world:
- Unhappy nature- Whenever I was on the metro, I noticed everyone around me usually had on a pair of headphones and a fixated look at a random spot on the train. No one smiled, no one laughed. If I smiled at them, they would look the other way…eventually I turned into one of them and if anyone ever took a picture of me on the metro, I would surely look unapproachable…something quite opposite of my normal behavior. I was absolutely shocked when I went to Germany, for instance, and two young men walked my family and I to Beethoven’s house when we got lost. They took time out of their day to help us. What?! Who does that? Happy people do! I love happy people, and I am so excited to return to the states and see people who will smile and not scoff at me if I were to ask for directions.
- Cynicism- the constant threat of theft or harassment was something I struggled with a lot while in Paris. I never walked around without clutching my purse by my side and darting my eyes every which way in the metro to assure myself I wasn’t being pick pocketed. The US is very trusting in comparison…but rightfully so, really! The other day at the Amsterdam airport, I slung my backpack to my chest out of Parisian custom…I didn’t want my backpack to have accessible pockets to thieves as I stood in a line. And then I caught myself—everyone else was wearing backpacks on their backs like normal people at home do. They weren’t worried at the least. I greatly look forward to feeling completely safe again. Just thinking about being able to hang my purse on my chair at a restaurant makes me excited (I usually held it in my lap…uncomfortable, really).
I often try asking myself—Andrea, do you miss Paris? I think for a while and cannot come to a conclusion. Maybe it’s silly, but I can’t actually answer that right now. That seems to be the question to ask a few months down the road, when I’m doing something with someone and wishing at that very moment that I was back in Paris. I do feel a tie to the city, and when I go back, I’ll feel comfortable because I’ve gotten to know a piece of her. In the end, she became my friend and like any good friend, I look forward to seeing her again and reliving memories with her. I know I had the extreme pleasure and blessing to have visited and witnessed amazing architecture, monuments and sites. I got to relax by the Seine, dance on a boat, eat under the Eiffel Tower, sing at a hip hop concert, laugh in a jazz cave, explore in a castle, eat in a French home, live in an attic, write by a waterfall, shop in a flea market and learn something new every single day. How many people can say that? That’s beauty right there. And that’s the Paris I’ll remember. Beautiful, beautiful Paris.