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University of Missouri

Paris is more than baguettes and high fashion

by Addison L.

Living in Paris

On Jan. 7, I boarded an airplane that began my greatest adventure to date. After spending six weeks as a temporary resident of Paris, it is almost impossible to pick out events to write about, since every day I spent in the “City of Love and Lights” offered me something new and exciting. That is not to say that I did not struggle with a few aspects of submerging myself into a new culture, however. In fact, my first experiences while traveling were extremely mixed in their merits.

Speaking of French culture, and speaking of “speaking of,” I had the opportunity to take a beginner French language class while in Paris. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have survived there without the knowledge I learned in that class. Simply to be able to be polite with workers and neighbors takes a bit of understanding of the local language. I can’t tell you how many baguettes I ordered from boulangeries on a daily basis. I practically can do it in my sleep now. However, a beginning language class can only teach you so much.

Student sitting at a table by a cafe window. Snow is on the ground outside.

A white winter in Paris.

My first days en route to Paris were overwhelming. To begin, I had missed my connecting flight from Dublin into Paris. It was a stressful situation, but luckily my father stayed on the phone with me while I was at the airport and we were able to calmly (yet hastily) book the next flight out of Dublin into Paris. I checked my bag with just five minutes to spare.

Later, I boarded a plane that turned out to be very influential for me. Overlooking the beautiful scenery of the Irish coastline, I forgot about all of the worries from the obstacles of the morning and thought about how lucky I was to have the opportunity to miss a flight to Paris in the first place. What a life! I put on one of my favorite songs, “Holocene,” and fell into a state of peace that I’d never experienced before. It was awesome.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end! Okay — that is a bit dramatic. But, my luggage did not have as fabulous a flight as I did. In fact, it did not get on the flight at all (a worker at O’Hare International Airport made a joke about me losing my luggage, so I am positive he jinxed me.) I went just over a week wearing the same outfit every day in a city where fashion rules. It became sort of a joke after a few days, so it’s fun to look back on now. But I hate that shirt now. I really do.

Arriving in Paris, it was easy to point out some major differences from my hometown in Missouri; the buildings were more beautiful, the sky was more gloomy, the people were more direct, the transportation was far more complicated and the bread was more abundant (and delicious, of course.) On top of the culture shock I experienced from being a new city, meeting people from all over the United States was also overwhelming. Having said this, it was a challenge almost everyone in the program was more than willing to accept.

From coast to coast, all CIEE students and staff were warm and excited, which made this program so easy to get comfortable with. It really is true when people say that home is not a place, but a feeling. A few of the people I met in Paris began. In the first week, we got to see all the main tourist attractions that the city has to offer. I saw the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the lock bridge and, of course, the Eiffel Tower all in one day. Next, I hit the Louvre and hung out with my girl Mona Lisa for a few hours. We had fun. Later in the block I had the opportunity to visit many other museums such as Musee D’Orsay, Musee Rodin and Musee de l’Armee. Visiting these places made it so easy to appreciate the French culture through the lenses of art and history. It is true, Paris is more than just baguettes and high fashion.

At the beginning of the block, I made it my goal to be able to have a conversation with a French local. I can proudly say that I achieved this goal on my very last day in Paris. Am I Parisian now? Well, I guess it depends on who you ask. Rather than feeling like a complete outsider facing a barrier, I found myself feeling within and without the culture. To me, there are parts of Paris that will always feel a bit like home, even though it was only temporary.

Student standing in front of the Louvre, Paris, France.

The Louvre in Paris

Excursions

Thus far I have visited four cities outside of Paris in the six weeks I have been abroad. First, I attended a study tour that was arranged by CIEE. This particular tour was in the delightful city of Bordeaux, France. Bordeaux finds a way to combine the quintessential aspects of a small town with the liveliness and population of a city. It was nice to escape the hustle and bustle of Paris for a weekend.

Next, I traveled to Brussels, Belgium, for a weekend. We walked around the town and took in the beauty of the city, but what we really enjoyed in Belgium was the food. Waffles? Frites? Beer? Chocolate? All of my favorite things done right in one place? Brussels, if you’re reading this, you ROCK.

My third trip outside of Paris was to Rome, Italy. Now, I went to Rome about three years ago, so I had already done the tourist things. So, what did I do in Rome three years later? I did the tourist things… again! It was just as wonderful the second time around. Rome is a beautiful city that I don’t think I would ever be able to get used to. I mean, who wouldn’t want to enjoy some chocolate gelato on the Spanish steps… twice?

Lastly, I took an impromptu day trip to Amsterdam. Oh my gosh, Amsterdam, you have my heart. I had never seen such a beautiful city in my life. The city offered good vibes from start to finish and I can’t wait to go back to that vibrant place in the spring and show my family around. Overall, I had some great experiences outside of my host city and I’m excited to plan more excursions in future blocks.

Reflection

When people back home asked me why I wanted to study abroad, I had a few answers lined up. The first, and probably most obvious, reason is that I wanted to travel and see the world while I am young. There is most likely never going to be another chance for me to spend five months exploring Europe while I am still young and able-bodied. The second reason I chose to go abroad is because I want to be able to understand other cultures in order to be able to apply it to my work in the future. The last and main reason I came to Paris was to gain some independence and responsibility. Growing up in a white suburban neighborhood, everything was cookie-cutter and dry. I always had access to data and a car, was able to speak the language and had people I was close to around me. Essentially, I was on my own in Paris. I learned to use paper maps instead of Google Maps, to navigate the metro system and to communicate with people that I could barely understand.

Student walking down colorful row of houses on a narrow brick street.

Saying “au revoir” to Paris

Paris, at times, really pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone. Because of this, I learned a pretty important characteristic about myself. This experience made me realize that I don’t have the highest self-confidence. I didn’t ever realize how much better I functioned in my bubble until I was forced out of it. Typically a very social and bubbly person, I was sheepish and worrisome about living in this foreign place. Fortunately, I was able to detect this problem early on and chose to consciously correct it. I began trying new things and just overall became more confident with who I am. This, I think is a good start in achieving the self-growth that I hoped for when deciding to leave my university for a semester. I’m looking forward to more challenges that push me to become the sort of person I have always wanted to be.

About the blogger

Addison L. is studying abroad on the CIEE: Global Institute Open Campus Program.

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