Mourning Abroad

As you can tell from the title, this post will be on a slightly heavier subject. However, I by no means want to end this incredible semester with a sad topic so there will be one more post following this one so that we can end on a happy note. I write this because I know that there are many other people out there who may fear going abroad because they are afraid that something will happen to a loved one while they are away, and I hope that what I write here may be of encouragement to them.

The third of February, 2019. I got up, showered, had breakfast with Katherine, and proceeded with my normal Sunday morning routine. I wandered back into my room to find that I had a missed call from my mom. What time is it over there? I wondered to myself. I was about to call her back when my phone started to ring in my hand again. There was something wrong. I knew it because my parents always let me call them back when I had the time, usually figuring that I was busy and would call when I could. When I opened FaceTime, my fears were confirmed. My mom’s face was red, the way it normally is when she’s upset, and my dad’s blue eyes shone even brighter than normal, something only seen when he’s exhausted. Passed the formalities and they informed me that my aunt, Nancy, aged 63, had passed away just hours before.

This was the moment that I had been dreading since I went to college. Nancy was diagnosed with a rare type of brain cancer just two weeks before I left Minnesota for my first year at Hope. At the time, I didn’t realize how serious her illness was, what odds she was up against, but as time passed and her condition worsened, the gravity of the situation started to sink in. I soon realized that there would come a day… I may be at home or school or even in France when she would finish her journey on this earth, and I may or may not be able to be there with her when she does.

A year and a half later and it was January 5, 2019; hours before I would get on a plane that would take me incredibly far away from home. I hugged my aunt and kissed her on the forehead. As I looked at her in her bed, she was not peaceful and she wasn’t without pain. Words cannot explain how difficult it was to convince myself that it was okay for me to leave, that she would be so upset with me if I didn’t get on that plane and go have the adventure of a lifetime. So I got up the next day and I got on the plane, fully aware that I most likely saw my aunt for the last time the night before.

Now was the day that I had been dreading for so long and I was without words. I cried, of course, but I also felt so relieved. Nancy was not in pain anymore and she didn’t struggle to form a coherent response to the simplest of questions. She was no longer holding on to a body that had failed her. She was free.

At the end of that phone call, my parents told me I should do something for myself that day, something that Nancy would have loved to do with me. I went and got coffee. I walked around for over an hour on a Sunday when everyone is brunching in the cafes until I found a place that seemed suitable. I sat under the awning with the classic Parisian wicker chairs that faced the street, and for the next two hours I watched people pass by as I sipped on the most expensive coffee I have ever purchased. The whole thing is laughable to me now because Nancy would have thought it was the most absurd thing, but she would have loved to just sit and people-watch for hours. After I finished my ridiculously overpriced coffee, I decided to go for a walk and, oh boy, am I glad I did. When Nancy got sick, she started to go for really long walks and I think she would have loved this one. I walked for what seemed like ages, but I couldn’t convince myself that it was time to go home. I followed to streets to Place de la Concorde and there I saw the most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen in Paris. The sun blazed orange along the horizon but the sky remained a pure blue, the clouds a glorious purple. At that moment I knew, that after everything that I had seen my aunt go through, she was okay and I truly believe that that sunset was the surest sign to let me know; to reassure me that everything was going to be okay.

The reason for my delay in writing about this loss is because for the longest time I didn’t feel like what had happened had really sunk in or that I was really prepared to talk about mourning, in general. For a while, I almost believed that when I got home I could just pop over to my aunt’s house for a chat, and play with her cats while enjoying a coconut La Croix together. It scares me to know that my world over here in France has existed entirely separately from my world at home. So, I fear that going back will be like learning the news all over again because I will finally see for myself that she is no longer there. Despite how difficult it has been abroad and how difficult it will be when I return home, I wanted to write about this because I know that there are many other people like me. People who are afraid to go abroad because they fear something might happen to a loved one while they’re gone. I want to let all of those people now that we can’t put our lives on hold just because we are afraid of missing something. I know that if I had missed out on going abroad because I wanted to be at home with my aunt that she would have been so mad at me. Life happens regardless of where you are, but when it comes to losing a loved one, you can’t let that fear keep you from following your aspirations.

Some days I feel the loss more strongly than others, but I know that Nancy would not want her death to be an excuse for me to sit inside and watch life pass me by. When grief hits me like a ton of bricks, there are some things that I’ve noticed help immensely:

Do the kinds of things that you enjoyed together. I’ll go for long walks, runs, drink coffee, or read for fun, literally anything that I know that she would want to do. At first, it’s really weird to do these things on your own because you desperately want your loved one to be there with you, but it’s a great way to honor and remember them.

Treat yourself with kindness. This means getting out of bed, showering, eating food in proper amounts, and getting some kind of exercise. Grief, believe it or not, puts a lot of stress on the body so it’s really important to take care of yourself. Your loved one would want to know that you are treating yourself well.

Talk about it. My sister (who was also studying in Europe) and I were able to get together and be able to talk about what that day was like for each of us, and it was incredibly cathartic for the both of us. Keeping all of those complex emotions bottled up isn’t good for anyone so it’s important to try and talk about them. It doesn’t even have to be another person. I monologued to myself in the shower about all of my feelings frequently trying to put into words I was experiencing. From doing that, I feel more at ease like I know the situation better.

Allow yourself to be sad, if you want to. I know that Nancy would not want me to be sad and grieve over her loss, but it is a completely natural response to a loss so if you start to feel those emotions, let them out so you can start to process and heal.

Closure. When I told a friend that my aunt had passed away, they asked me if I was going to fly back home for the funeral. Nancy didn’t want a funeral or a memorial service. No, she wanted a party and thankfully this party is taking place when I get back home so I don’t have to feel like I missed out. However, funerals, for a lot of people, are a means of closure and remembrance, so a lot of people feel like they have to be there in-person. I’ve talked with some friends about what has/would happen if they were in the situation of being abroad when they lost/lose a loved one. Most of them said that they would stay abroad, and they’d just Skype in to the service or whatever event was held in that person’s honor. There is no right or wrong choice and, ultimately, it has to be yours. Whether you want to be there in-person or not, you know yourself best and what would best help you to start healing.

These are just a couple of things I have done that have helped me start processing through my grief. Obviously, what works for one person might not work for another so it’s important that you listen to your emotions and do what feels right for you. A lot of study abroad programs also have counselors or can arrange for you to meet with one should that be something that you feel might be helpful.

I’m still apprehensive about going home and facing the new family dynamics, on top of the reverse culture shock I will no-doubt experience as well. I won’t lie, dealing with this loss while abroad has been difficult. Yet, I believe I made the right decision in studying abroad and I know Nancy believed so too.

Pardon my French

One of my primary motivations in choosing to study abroad in France, as opposed to anywhere else in the world, was to improve my French. Before I came to France, I had studied French for 5.5 years, 4 in high school and 1.5 in college. From those many years of studying the language, I was able to carry out conversations on pretty much any subject with minimal difficulty recalling vocabulary, and I was capable of reading and comprehending relatively simple novels with ease. I could also understand about 80% of what a French person would say in conversation.

So what’s changed?

Before I arrived in France, I had constantly been told that English is so well-known here that French practically isn’t necessary to get around. Well whoever told me that clearly has not had to live with someone who only knows the English words “yes,” “bye” and “stop.” When I got here, I was immediately dropped in the deep end, but my French is so much better for it. Instead of being able to just drop an English word here and there whenever I didn’t know something, I suddenly had to speak all French all the time and look up what I didn’t know. Over the span of four months that gets to be a lot of new vocabulary, resulting in better, more fluent French.

There is also the matter of grammar. While I tend to be able to get away with plenty of grammar mistakes with Katherine, my professors at CIEE, especially MC, fix grammar on the spot. That, too, overtime tends to iron out the kinks in my French. Grammar remains my primary struggle in French. Although, I find myself being able to form sentences with increased ease and, on very few occasions, I don’t even have to think about what I’m saying, the French just comes out and it’s right!

As of right now, I can’t exactly tell what has changed other than these more obvious factors, but it will be interesting to see what will be different when I return to French classes at Hope. I do believe there are other aspects of my French that have improved, though it’s hard to really measure or quantify those qualities of my French. For example, my accent. I’ve been really lucky to have had several great French teachers who all speak the language either as their native tongue or with an incredibly good French accent. From listening to those teachers, I was able to grasp the basic sounds of French so I have been able to speak with a relatively good French accent. Since I’ve been in France, I’d like to believe that my accent got better and more natural-sounding, but I can’t really be the judge of that.

To someone who doesn’t know French as a first language or even at all, I likely sound like a native speaker. However, to the French, I most certainly do not. I remember my first day of class at French university with my professor who is Russian. She speaks perfect French, and I had absolutely no difficulties in understanding her. Yet, soon after she started speaking, she made a comment about her being a foreigner and having an accent. All of the French students in the room nodded their heads. It was completely ridiculous! I couldn’t hear an accent, but to these French students it was clear as day! So no, I don’t sound like a native speaker to the French, but I have been told that I sound like the next best thing: German! I’ve actually had probably three conversations, all with different French people, where I’ve been asked if I was German. I replied “no, I am American,” which is always shocking to them. I asked a man that I met why he thought I was German and he said it was because I spoke French quite well with a good accent. I asked if he’d met many Americans that could, but he said that they generally don’t. Of course, it made me feel good to know that my accent is good, but only time will tell how much it has actually improved. I suspect when I get back to Hope that the French professors will have a thing or two to say about it.

There is also the matter of speed. Generally, I don’t speak very quickly in English so I definitely do not in French. However, the French people seem so driven by talking ridiculously quickly that I had to try to learn to do that as well. Overall, I find that French-speakers speak significantly quicker than English-speakers, but I find that a lot of it is very situational. The situations where I hear people speaking the quickest are on the radio and also in in-class discussion at school. I tend to think this comes from French people’s habit of speaking over one another when they have something to say. I guess they feel it necessary to speak as quickly as possible so as to say everything they want to say and avoid being interrupted. I found that when I spoke in class at French university, the professor and other students were much more respectful. They let me talk without cutting me off because they could tell very clearly that I was foreign, but when a French student spoke there were absolutely no limits. I remember a class discussion I didn’t even try to participate in because the French students were just talking over each other the entire time. There was no way that I would be able to jump right in and say what was on my mind. However, I have found that I am now quicker at organizing my thoughts and being able to speak off the cuff without mentally rehearsing what I’ll say (though sometimes that has ended in a grammatical disaster).

There is also the matter of using the ‘f-word’… fluency. I have never before said that I was fluent in French because I never felt like that accurately described my language ability. My family has been describing me as fluent in French for quite a while now, even though they had scarcely heard me speak it at all. My parents just assumed that, based on how long I’d been learning the language, I was probably coming up on being fluent if I wasn’t already. However, after they came to visit me in France and actually heard me speak French they said that I definitely was. Fluent, to me, meant flawless. Let me be the first one to say, my French is not flawless. But fluent, by definition, does not mean flawless, not even close. To be fluent means simply to be able to write or speak in a language with ease, so, by that definition, I guess I am fluent.

Truthfully, I still tend to stray from using that word because it brings a sort of intimidating expectation with it. If I say that I’m fluent in a second language, there are two responses: 1. That’s really cool! 2. How do you say… Sometimes when people ask me this second question and it’s something that I have no idea how to say, I feel like a complete fraud because I can’t “prove” my fluency to them. But, something that I wish was more evident to people is that being fluent is not the same thing as speaking at a native-level. I know and have accepted the fact that I might never speak French at a native-level, but that doesn’t mean I can’t constantly continue to improve my abilities.

Bottom line: language learning is a long and complicated journey and there is no definite way to determine your progress. But, there are little tests here and there like stopping to give directions to someone or checking out at the grocery store that reassure me that, yes, my French is getting better.

 

Also, for your entertainment, here’s a list of fun words or phrases that I learned throughout my time here in France:

Schtroumpfs: smurfs!

I just like how it sounds.

Cerf-volant: kite

Literally translates to “flying deer”.

Dodo: nap; sleep

This is a fun one because it’s actually the little kid way of saying sleep so it’s English equivalent is something like “sleepy time” or “beddy bye” (Katherine actually uses this one all the time).

Yaourter: to make up words when singing

I need to explain this one. So there is this show on French TV where people compete by singing songs with difficult lyrics and they have to try to remember them, but if they mess up then they lose (it’s weird but stick with me). So when the singers don’t know the words they will yaourter. I would also like to mention that the literal translation of this verb is “to yogurt”.

Bobo: hipster

I hear this word all the time, especially in reference to the 10th, 11th, and 20th arrondissements. I will also say that a hipster in France is usually a millennial with a job so bobo-style is more high-end, but not bourgeois.

Chou: cute

Katherine frequently calls me “mon petit chou” which can literally translate to “my little cabbage” but it is generally a term of endearment.

Cocotte: dear

Katherine also uses this one as a term of endearment. She’ll say “ma cocotte,” but it literally translates to “my chicken”.

About what just happened in Paris…

Monday, April 15, 2019.

I was stuck inside all day studying for one of my finals. After hours of reviewing, I decided I’d finally had enough and I ought to go for a walk to clear my head. I laced up my tennis shoes and headed into the metro without a specific destination in mind. I eventually landed at the Eiffel Tour and decided to walk along the Seine, maybe I’d end up at Place de la Concorde, maybe I’d walk further depending on how I was feeling.

I walked quite a way, just enjoying the sunny spring evening in Paris. The sky was a pristine blue and there was scarcely a cloud in it, except that one… that’s a really odd-looking cloud… no wait, that’s smoke!

7:11 PM

Normally I try to be really casual about weird things that happen in Paris because, well, it’s Paris and plenty of strange things happen here. However, this cloud of smoke caught my attention because it was huge! I followed the smoke which just happened to seem to be the direction of the river, in my head trying to figure out what it could be, an apartment building fire maybe? As I got near, I noticed that the stream of smoke seemed to be growing, something was not right.

7:16 PM

The river curved and so I followed it and I was struck with the oddest view. It looked like the smoke was coming from Ile-de-la-Cité right next to Notre Dame, Paris’ oldest and most well-known church. I kept walking, determined to see what it was, and I saw flames directly on top of the cathedral. If I wasn’t already stressing out and panicking, I was at this point. Notre Dame is on fire?! How could this happen? Notre Dame is made out of stone, how does stone burn? Why is the fire getting bigger?

7:19 PM

I was in shambles: tears wet my cheeks and my nose ran incessantly. What I felt could only be described as shock. This was a church I walked by at least three times a week and it was now in a complete state of distress. All I could do was stand by and watch as Notre Dame was ravaged by flames. A few minutes passed as I looked at the beautiful cathedral on one of her darkest days. I eventually came to my senses and realized that I didn’t know what caused this. It could have been an act of terrorism and there could have been more planned so I decided it was best that I return home to safety. I was also concerned about the metro as that was my only way home. I wondered if it would be closed as sometimes is the case when there are calamities in the city.

Thankfully, I made it home in one piece with no difficulties. As soon as I opened the door, I blurted out what I’d just witnessed to my host sister, Astrid, who is in her thirties. She was stunned and immediately turned on the radio which was already reporting of the fire raging on the roof of Notre Dame. The rest of the evening I struggled to concentrate on anything other than the fire. I scoured the internet for any kind of information I could find on how it started or if it could be put out. News outlets were predicting that the cause of the fire was in relation to the ongoing renovations happening on the roof, where the fire started, not due to terrorism which relieved me immensely. For a while, I switched between several livestreams to follow the advances of the fire and my heart nearly burst out of my chest as I watched the spire fall. Eventually, I fell asleep, but woke up every couple of hours to check any updates I could find.

A smoke-filled sky over Place de la Concorde 4/15/2019 7:29 PM

Finally, in the early morning, I saw that Paris firefighters had contained the fire and that the structure of the church was, by and large, saved. I breathed a sigh of relief; Notre Dame wouldn’t be completely destroyed. I proceeded with my morning routine and checked my phone to find that I had so many messages. I had messages from friends and family checking in to make sure that I was okay and expressing their condolences. I made sure to respond to them all and thank them for their concern.

I spent the morning in a daze and picked up a 20 Minute (free newspaper in the Paris metro) that displayed the title Le Drame de Notre-Dame and a photo of Notre Dame in flames. I couldn’t read it because I had a three hour exam that I had to study for during my commute. Thankfully, the exam wasn’t too terrible, and I then had the rest of the day to process through all that I’d seen. I read the article on Notre Dame on my way to see her for myself.

Once out of the metro, I was bombarded with people. Tourists, Parisians, and journalists alike had flooded any street with a view of the Cathedral, all anxious to catch a glimpse of what remained. I managed to push my way through the waves of people to find a place where I could see her well. I was surprised to see that she didn’t look as desolate and destroyed as I’d thought though, at the same time, she was somber. Notre Dame lost her spire and roof. To the untrained eye she looked a little rough, but not terrible. For those of us who’ve seen her more than a few times, you can tell by looking at her that something is different.

Notre Dame, 4/16/2019

Why does this matter?

Notre Dame is one of the most well-known churches in the world. It actually is the most-visited monument in the city, beating out the Eiffel Tower by nearly twice the number of visitors annually. With Notre Dame now closed to the general public, for at least the foreseeable future, there is going to be a swarm of visitors flocking to other various tourist locations around Paris so it will have a huge impact on crowds. Although, I’m certain they’ll make a point to see her from afar.

Also, there is the matter of preservation of history. Construction on the cathedral started in 1163 when the first stone was placed in the presence of the pope Alexander III. It wasn’t finished until nearly two-hundred years later, in 1345! Since then, plenty of updates have been made to Notre Dame including renovations to keep the building updated in the 850 years since its construction. Most recently, a 150-million-euro renovation was being done on the roof and spire as it had experienced some normal wear-and-tear. It was to be expected from a building that has been around since before the middle ages.

However, it isn’t simply a matter of Notre Dame being an incredibly old church that draws in tourists. After the fire, I saw a lot of posts on Instagram and twitter about how Notre Dame stood through two world wars. Yes, that’s true, she did, but that’s only in the last 100 years. But these posts didn’t even mention the fact that she stood through the French Revolution, the Black Plague, and was around long before most of our ancestors left Europe. A lot of people who haven’t really gotten to know France and the culture tend to think of Notre Dame as being merely a really old and really beautiful church. Maybe they think of it as a setting for a famous book or Disney movie, but for those of us who really knew what she meant to France know better than to simply attribute those titles to her. She survived through so much and continued to stand and represent France and the French people. As the literal center of Paris, Notre Dame embodied the heart of Paris and France as a whole, and to see that go up in flames was to see a piece of the identity of France turn to ash.

Whilst scrolling through all of those posts about the incredible loss of Notre Dame, I was bothered by a general lack of reverence and comprehension of the importance of this monument displayed. I would like to point out that when an event like this happens, it is so incredibly important to research and understand what something symbolizes before posting about it or don’t post at all. I don’t believe posting a family vacation photo in front of Notre Dame with a caption explaining how “lucky you were to see her before this accident” is appropriate to memorialize the monument given the weight of this terrible event.

 

What do the French think?

The French reaction to the fire at Notre Dame is fairly mixed. In my experience, a the people who were most affected were the adults, Catholic, and non-French. When I got back to my apartment, Astrid, whom I introduced earlier, was shocked and watched the news until late in the night to follow the updates at Notre Dame. Katherine was also heartbroken over the fire.

On the other hand, in one of my university classes at Diderot, the professor (a Russian woman) asked what we all thought about the Notre Dame fire. Most of the students (all in their first year at university) didn’t seem to care, yet these were people who’d lived in Paris their whole lives. My professor seemed much more affected, as were many of my friends in my study abroad program. I’ve also been in several Catholic churches since then and have seen signs up asking parishioners to pray for Notre Dame.

Essentially, I believe that the people who were most affected by the fire were those who were capable of understanding the importance of Notre Dame. My university classmates are so accustomed to having an old church on every street corner so I assume they viewed it as any other. The adults with whom I’ve spoken on the subject appear to be far more invested in what will come of this event.

 

What’s next?

In the 24 hours following the start of the fire, three billionaires donated a total of 600 million euros for the reconstruction of Notre Dame. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, declared that they would rebuild and later said that it would be done in 5 years’ time. This was actually quite a shocking statement given the immense amount of work that will have to be done in such a small time span so we’ll see whether that statement is followed up with action. Essentially, the entire roof and spire are completely destroyed so it will be rather precarious work given how high the ceilings are. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see what happens next as we continue in this new chapter for Notre Dame.

Do I feel safe in Paris?

My sister and I were talking on the phone, about a week ago, when this question came up. Upon her asking, I was slightly stunned, why would I not feel safe? She then proceeded to forward me an email that she’d received from the United States Embassy which, sure enough, showed that the travel advisory for France was raised from level 1 to level 2 telling people to exercise caution due to “terrorism” and “civil unrest.” After reading the full article, I was still shocked. I couldn’t imagine being scared of going to the places I’d frequented for the last three months just because of some travel advisory. In order to talk my sister off the ledge, I explained to her that I don’t feel afraid, regardless of what the U.S. Embassy says.

For the last three months, I have been living in a city that is a hub for Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) protests that have been frequently dubbed “violent” because of the actions of certain casseurs (people who break things) in their midsts. The 18th Saturday of the Gilets Jaunes movement was by far the most violent, at least in Paris. They marched from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Elysées, a street that boasts famous luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Cartier. The boulevard epitomizes the system which the Gilets Jaunes have felt has suppressed them: capitalism. I walked on that street the very next day and was shocked to find windows completely shattered and the awning of one of the fanciest, most expensive restaurants in Paris, Fouquet’s, victim of a fire started by these casseurs.

At the same time, I’ve had very different experiences with the Gilets Jaunes. I remember one Saturday I was out shopping with some friends and I’d just said goodbye to them to head back home by way of the metro. Just next to the metro entrance, the street was completely packed with a parade of Gilets Jaunes, shouting and singing, but not breaking anything. In order to get to the metro, I had to go through them. Carefully, I joined in with the group and slipped out on the other side of the road unharmed. No one wanted to hurt someone who was passing by because those are not the people that the Gilets Jaunes want to express their frustrations with.

While similar situations have occurred multiple times for me, I know some people who haven’t been as lucky with their Gilets Jaunes experiences. A group of students my age were leaving a store when they found themselves in between the police and the Gilets Jaunes. They got sprayed with tear gas! Unfortunately, there are run-ins like this between police and Gilets Jaunes fairly frequently and I’ve almost had the same thing happen to me.

One day after class, I wanted to go buy a crepe by the Seine because that’s where you can find them fresh and extremely cheap. I took the metro to Place de la Concorde which is right next to where I’d previously seen these crepe stands. A little bit of background, Place de la Concorde is well-known because it was where thousands of people were guillotined during the French Revolution, and has since been a popular place for other protests due to its historical relevance. When I got up the stairs out of the metro, I was met with the sight of Gilets Jaunes on my left and the Gendarmerie (the French riot police) on my right. I stopped in my tracks and considered: was the crepe worth it? That question was answered fairly quickly as I saw some casseurs already starting to pick fights. I immediately retreated into the metro, the crepe completely forgotten. A woman passed me as I headed back in and she asked me if where I was coming from was an exit. I told her yes, but that I wouldn’t recommend it because there was a confrontation happening there. This is the advice that I would give to everyone who asks me about the Gilets Jaunes: don’t go looking for them, and when something doesn’t feel right or when you see them and the police together, avoid them at all costs. For my friends that got tear gassed, it is unfortunate that that happened to them. However, part of staying safe is being smart about where you go and being flexible with your schedule. If I were in the same situation as my friends, instead of leaving the store, I would have stayed inside and waited until the coast was clear because safety is much more important.

I think that explains pretty well the part of the warning about “civil unrest” and now for the “terrorism” aspect.

The Monday after the Gilets Jaunes’ most violent weekend, I was eating breakfast and listening to the radio with my host mom, Katherine. The radio hosts were discussing new measures that would be taken in order to combat the violent activities of some Gilets Jaunes. They explained that after all of the vandalism committed by certain casseurs, the French government would be releasing the national army to protect national monuments. What they said next I didn’t quite understand so Katherine helped better explain it. She told me that when someone commits an act such as vandalizing a national monument in France, they are no longer a criminal, they are considered a terrorist. This is where I think something has been lost in translation. Over the past months that I have been here, I have heard nothing about any terrorist groups plotting any attacks in Paris from any of the media outlets that I have been following. I was quite shocked when I heard that terrorism was one of the factors cited by the U.S. Embassy for raising this advisory. This isn’t to say that there is no possibility of some kind of attack being plotted against Paris, it’s just to say that I haven’t heard or read anything about it. That being said, this “terrorism” that the U.S. Embassy has discussed is possibly linked more with a situation that has been misinterpreted or that they have intelligence that has not been released to the general public.

If, in fact, there were to be some type of extreme danger in Paris, similar to the attacks of November 13, 2015, quite frankly, I would be scared. And, I came to France knowing that that event took place in the city that I would be moving to. However, I am also from a country that has been the setting of various acts of terrorism and I’m not afraid to live there, so why should I be afraid to live here? In fact, I believe that at one point other countries had placed high travel advisories on travel to the United States due to our policies on guns.

In short, yes, I do feel safe in France as I know that I’m at just as high a risk of becoming a victim of violence here or anywhere else in the world. I won’t spend my time worrying about the possibility of being attacked when I could be out exploring the beautiful country I’m in. Life is too short to live in fear of the “what-ifs”.

So now that I’ve talked about the biggest concerns that people have about the safety of France as a whole, I’ll cover some more frequent causes for worry for those who plan to visit, or know someone visiting Paris.

 

PICKPOCKETS and SCAMMERS

When I originally told people that I was going to study in Paris, one of the first questions to come up was “oh, but what if you get pickpocketed?” and then they would proceed to tell me some story about their second cousin’s spouse who got robbed on the streets of Paris. I’ll be frank with this one: I have never *knock on wood* been pickpocketed; I’ll explain how while we talk about why certain people get targeted more commonly by pickpocketers than others.

There’s a couple speaking loudly in a language that is not French in the metro. They are in their sixties wearing backpacks on their fronts and looking at their handy-dandy pocket map of Paris. As they filter out of the train and up the stairs to street level, a young man trips on the stairs in front of them. While the nice couple is helping this young guy up, another person comes and snatches the older man’s wallet from his pocket. It isn’t until five minutes later that the man reaches into his pocket to find that his wallet is missing. This is one of the stories that I heard during my orientation here and it demonstrates exactly what not to do in Paris in order to not get pickpocketed.

Quite likely, the primary factor that makes someone a target is how they dress. If you’re wearing a backpack on your chest you may as well have a massive neon flashing sign pointing to yourself with the word “TOURIST” written out on it. Literally, no Parisian person ever does this. And while you think you’re being smart about not letting someone open your backpack without you looking, really you’re just doing yourself a disservice by indicating to everyone who sees you that you do not live here and as such, you are vulnerable because you don’t know the local tricks that thieves use to rob you. Inversely, so many people come to Paris on vacation to enjoy all the amazing things that the city has to offer, one of the most popular being French fashion. I kid you not, I have seen people in head-to- toe couture with their designer handbags and thousands of dollars in jewelry. This is just as bad as tourist fashion. Basically, when people dress like this they are advertising to people that they are wealthy, and therefore make themselves targets for pickpockets. Essentially, a happy medium between American tourist and fashion blogger is the way to go because you can blend in, and ultimately avoid unwanted attention from thieves.

Sometimes, blending in just doesn’t work out so here are a couple solutions to keep pickpockets at bay and protect yourself the best that you can.

If you are really worried about someone taking something from your bag without your knowledge, keep valuables in zipped pockets, money belts, or in the innermost parts of your backpack. One word of caution about keeping valuables in bags is that it is not uncommon for people to cut open bags with knives. Please be cautious about what you choose to carry your belongings in. One of the girls I met during my study abroad orientation told me she didn’t want to wear a backpack so she got a sturdy shoulder bag that zips. She could blend in better with the French and keep an eye on her bag if she ever felt like she might be the target of pickpocketing.

It’s also a really good idea to research common scams or techniques that pickpockets use to steal from you. Most Parisians are incredibly familiar with all of them so they know how to recognize a trap when they see one. Familiarize yourself with common schemes so that you don’t have to become a victim. Before I came to France, I watched a lot of videos about scams that specifically target tourists in Paris. If you’re curious, this is the best one that I’ve found:

As someone who has been in Paris for over three months, I feel like I know how to blend in enough so as not to make myself a target. Even so, if it were to happen despite preventative measures, the best solution is to be as loud as possible and make a scene because that is the exact opposite of what thieves want. They will abandon ship as soon as you start to draw attention to the fact that they were trying to rob you, so it’s best not to be shy.

 

AS A WOMAN IN A BIG CITY

I will admit that as a female in Paris, sometimes I do not feel incredibly safe. In discussing with lots of other women here, they all have really similar experiences. They’ve all had experiences in their day-to-day lives where certain men have made them feel really uncomfortable, to say the least.

One of the teachers at CIEE, a parisienne through and through, spoke about getting in the metro and having men just stare at her, and not in a good way either. This is actually something that I’ve experienced quite frequently and it is incredibly uncomfortable. They just stare at you and when you make eye contact they don’t look away. I’ve never felt unsafe or threatened when this kind of situation has occurred because there are plenty of other people around, but really the only word I can use to describe it is unsettling.

Aside from weird eye contact, there is also the matter of catcalling. Of all of my female friends that I’ve talked to, literally every one of them have been catcalled at least once since they’ve been in Paris. This is pretty generous of a statistic to give because it does happen quite frequently. However, this happens pretty much everywhere else in the world so unfortunately, as a woman, I just have to ignore it in the hopes that the man won’t continue.

Lastly, walking alone at night. Paris is known as the City of Lights which is nice for us gals who are walking back home at night. Paris itself is really well-lit at night so it’s not like you are walking around in complete darkness! Whenever I have to walk in the dark, I don’t exactly feel scared doing so. It is so well-lit and there are usually always people out because it is such a touristy city. I wouldn’t say I necessarily recommend walking alone at night because I don’t, but I also won’t say that I feel afraid doing so. That being said, it’s also a good idea to consider asking a friend to walk with you to your neighborhood and definitely try to avoid distractions like using your phone or listening to music until you are safely inside.

All in all, Paris is not a city to let your guard down in, but it also isn’t a place that should seem intimidating or scary. As long as you are well-informed and smart about what you do and where you go, it’s more than likely that you’ll have a safe and pleasant stay in Paris.

5 things that happened after I sprained my ankle in Paris

So a little bit of background: I really like to run so as I’ve been in Paris I’ve made it a habit to go out running a couple days out of the week. Right next to my apartment in Paris is the Bois de Boulogne (see my post La Maison Française for more information) which is where I like to run because it’s a nice change of scenery from the mostly concrete city in which I live. Essentially, it’s a huge park with dirt trails and lots of rocks so it’s definitely best to watch your step. However, one day I was running and I definitely did not look where I was going and, sparing you the not so fun details, I now have a sprained ankle:)

Now, normally a sprained ankle isn’t really that big of a deal because it’ll heal in a couple of weeks and not be a big problem, BUT, that has not been the case for me. A couple of years ago, I sprained the same ankle pretty badly so this new sprain is healing over scar tissue which makes the process much, much longer. It has now been around a month since I’ve royally messed up my ankle and it is still a ways away from being up for anything more than a brisk walk. That being said, in the time that I’ve been sidelined I’ve devised a list of five things that happened after I sprained my ankle (in France!):

1. I learned how to take a break: When I got to Paris I was overwhelmed with all of the things that I wanted to see and do. Up until I sprained my ankle, I was using all my spare time outside of class and on homework to cram everything into the short time that I’m here. The day after I sprained my ankle I spent the entire day in bed and it was so nice! Katherine gave me books on Paris that let me see all of the things that I hadn’t yet been able to see in person. I started reading Harry Potter in French, and spent some much needed time on Netflix. That’s not to say that that is what every day since then has been like, but it definitely showed me that I can still be enjoying my experience here without having to constantly be going somewhere to see something.

                                                Exploring Paris from home!

2. I learned to enjoy just walking without a destination: Running was my primary source of exercise when I came to France so I was really upset when, all of a sudden, I couldn’t do that anymore. So, I turned to walking. Instead of just walking around the Bois de Boulogne (I was overwhelmed with a feeling of betrayal from my accident), I opted to walk around and see the sights I hadn’t yet experienced in Paris. I used to be so focused on doing all the touristy spots. However, from just walking around I found so many cute places that, dare I say, are even better than some of the main attractions.

3. I learned that it’s okay to say no: A lot of my friends here really like to go out and explore whenever they have free time. I do too, but sometimes I really just want to be on my own and take things in at my own pace. My ankle gave me an excuse, but gradually I learned that I shouldn’t need one. You are 100% allowed to say no to your friends, and they will understand. Sometimes you just want to be by yourself to think and breathe and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

4. I learned SO MUCH FRENCH: Alright so this may be a bit of a strong statement, but right now I feel fairly confident in my language skills and really do feel like I’ve improved. Since I’ve had to spend a lot more time resting at home, I’ve passed a good portion of my time talking with my host mom, Katherine. Meals in France take a long time to make, especially if you have a host mom like mine who loves to talk; which is something I appreciate about her. Normally I would go running in the morning on weekends and would miss eating breakfast with Katherine. However, I couldn’t do that so we have pretty extensive breakfasts and conversations that last long after we’ve finished our bread and coffee. At the start of the semester, I mostly just let her talk because I didn’t understand everything and it was really hard to interject. Now it’s much more of an actual conversation. Mostly we talk about the news since we listen to that on the radio over breakfast, but she also tells me lots of stories from when she was my age. I tell her about my family back home and how things are different there from how they are here.

5. I learned to relax the way Parisians do: While walking I found my way into Jardin du Luxembourg, a massive park on the Left Bank with lots of trees and green space which is hard to come by in Paris. The day that I found it happened to be one of the first really beautiful spring days so, naturally, it was packed with people. Luckily I was able to find an empty lawn chair in the sun and sat there for a couple of hours, just reading my book and enjoying the fresh spring air.

                                   Reading in the Jardin du Luxembourg

This last one reminded me of a conversation I had with my sister, who is also studying abroad this semester. She recounted a story of her sitting near a lake, just relaxing. The sun was shining brightly and the sky a perfectly clear blue. For just a moment when she closed her eyes she told me it felt as if she was back home. A second later she opened her eyes to remind herself that, in fact, she wasn’t anywhere near home. Looking back, I realize that I had the exact same feeling that day in the park and it was incredibly bittersweet. I miss home (a lot), but Paris is my home now, too. Even when I’m gone for just a weekend I find myself wanting to be back in this beautiful city.

Right now my life is divided between Minnesota home, Hope home and Paris home, and running was my constant. It was my way of coping with homesickness and helped me feel a little more at ease with my environment. It was really difficult to suddenly not have that anymore. To be honest, I was really frustrated by what I couldn’t do, but somehow I found experiences that are even better. I’m not saying I’m glad that I messed up my ankle because it has definitely not been fun. Yet, I’m grateful for the new perspective it has given me.

Progress

Just this week I finished my first six weeks of my semester in France and can I just say, wow. I know study abroad is an incredible experience to get out and see the world, but my classes have put the study in study abroad. This week we will be talking about the French education system, particularly the university system of which I am the most familiar.

For my program with CIEE, I am required to complete two six-week intensive grammar classes and three other classes taught in French, one of which has to be done at a local university. Since I am now six weeks in, I have just completed the first grammar class and also a French philosophy class. Being intensives, these classes meet frequently and for long periods of time. As an example, for my grammar class we meet Monday through Thursday for two and a half hours each day, ending with a grand total of sixty class hours over the span of six weeks.

This class is entitled Writing Workshop and it is essentially designed to help us succeed in our classes at French university. I actually really enjoyed it because this class is taught by probably one of my favorite human-beings in existence, Marie-Christine, who is a lifelong parisienne that probably stands no taller than five feet and is well into her sixties. If caffeine could take a human form then it would definitely be MC, she has so much energy which is exactly what you need at nine a.m. on a Monday morning.

Everyday after MC marches in and shouts a joyful “BONJOUR” to us, my class starts with a warm up called “quoi de neuf” which means “what’s new?” This is the time where my classmates and I can tell stories about our experiences in Paris and give each other recommendations on places to visit, gossip about our host families, and really just talk about anything so long as it is in French. I consider this my favorite part of class because I can recount a story about something incredibly mundane and normal but Marie-Christine will listen intently and after I’ve finished she will shout some exclamatory like “GENIAL” (great) or “FORMIDABLE” (wonderful). Honestly, this woman provides the kind of encouragement I need.

After our daily quoi de neuf, Marie-Christine moves on to teach important grammar points that will be important for refining our language, but her first mission was to teach the class how to do an exposé. You may be asking yourself: what is an exposé? Well let me tell you, it can be really fun and it can also be really not fun, but we’ll get to that later.

An exposé is essentially a twenty minute presentation, usually done in pairs, about a subject presented to you in the form of a research question, not really anything new or exciting. However, the French way of presenting is quite different. Here’s how I would explain it: Americans say what their subject is and make a claim about it, then they present information supporting their claim and refute counterarguments, ultimately ending with a brief summary of the argument and how it can be applied to different real-life situations. The French explain the context of their subject, state their research question, state their research question in different words, explain the order of what they will do, talk about their research, restate what they have talked about, and lastly state their argument. While my class was learning about this incredibly foreign and slightly nonsensical way of presenting, we were all completely blown away by how counterintuitive the entire process was from what we had been taught in the American system and it took us a while to fully understand the concept.

After we learned how to do an exposé, we were tasked with actually carrying one out on different subjects and people in the quarter of Paris called Montmartre. Since the concept was so strange to us, this first round of exposés was slightly awkward because we had never done them before. After that first round where we all presented our exposés for our class and the beloved Marie-Christine, we started a second round of exposés that went much smoother than the first on the subject of Montparnasse, another famous quarter in Paris.

When we aren’t working on our exposés in writing workshop we are learning grammar, and not normal grammar; this is upper level stuff that has definitely had my brain doing gymnastics. While it has been hard to learn and difficult to grasp certain concepts, I definitely feel like I’ve already learned so much and my French is much more fluid than it was six weeks ago.

One final piece of this class that I have yet to mention are our group outings. My class has done extensive research on two important quarters in Paris: Montmartre and Montparnasse. These two neighborhoods have been host to some of the greatest French and foreign artists to live in Paris. Characters such as Pablo Picasso, Sartre, Gertrude Stein, Saint Denis, Josephine Baker, Kiki de Montparnasse, are all people we have studied and after all of that research Marie Christine took us out on little field trips to explore the areas. It was on one of these tours that I got to see Bateau-Lavoir, the workshop of famous creatives linked to Pablo Picasso, Cimetière de Montparnasse where Jean-Paul Sartre and Man Ray are buried, and Sacre Coeur at the top of Montmartre.

The view from Montmartre

La Coupole, one of the most famous cafés in MontparnasseThe other requirement of my program is to take at least one class at a local university. For this, I was given the option between two schools within the University of Paris system, Sorbonne Nouvelle which is well known for its classes in cinema and literature, or Paris Diderot which is a largely humanities based school with broader options for classes. Not quite knowing what kinds of classes I wanted to take, I chose Diderot since it gave me greater variety.

In front of Diderot, excuse the wild hair

At Diderot I chose to take two classes, a history class about South Asia with a particular concentration on colonial India, and a sociology course about migration and globalization. These are both semester long courses taught in French (obviously) for French students. The one really great thing about these classes is that they aren’t intensive like my classes at CIEE so instead of meeting every day we only meet once a week for three hours.

Right away I noticed some very distinct differences between French and American university:

  1. The professor is never on time. Both of my professors show up to class usually two or three minutes after the scheduled start time and don’t rush to start class even though they are late. Consequently, they don’t end on time either. This is especially unpleasant because three hours is long enough for a class, my attention span cannot be extended much longer than that so an extra fifteen minutes is not exactly my cup of tea.
  2. We have breaks. This is one of the differences that I actually like about French university. Because classes are three hours long (and sometimes even longer), the professors usually give us a 5-10 minute break around the middle to get up and move around so we don’t fall asleep.
  3. Grading system. The French university (and every other level of French education) is established not on a 100 point scale but a 20 point scale. This is something I’m still getting used to because when I get a paper back with a 14 out of 20 I freak out thinking I got a 70% on that assignment. The funny thing is that a 14 is actually considered a really good grade…let me explain. According to the university scale scores from 15-20 are an A, 14 is A-, 13 B+, 12 B, 11 B-, 10 C, and so on. From what I’ve been told, a 10 is the cutoff for passing or not so if a French student gets a 10 or higher, they’re really happy. Marie-Christine has told me that not many students even get a 15 and if you do then you’ve done really, really well. That being said, I’m still adjusting to this scale because I prefer the American 100-point scale since there isn’t such a steep drop-off between an A and failing.
  4. French students don’t know how to speak in public. Okay that’s only partially true, but hear me out. From my experience, I have never had a problem understanding a French professor because they all speak clearly and use good diction. Occasionally professors will start to speak a bit too fast and their words will run together but that hasn’t happened very frequently. The students, on the other hand, don’t speak like that at all. When they ask questions or speak in class they don’t raise their voices, speak clearly, or have any kind of gap between their words, yet somehow the professor manages to understand them perfectly! I noticed the same thing when they present their exposés. A lot of students will have scripts written out so they just read what they want to say and when they do that it’s even harder to understand because they read so fast and speak directly to their notes, not the class. Even if I try to read their lips or look at their powerpoints, I don’t really get a good sense of what’s going on.
  5. You get what you pay for. University is a lot less expensive in France than it is in the United States and it shows in the way that the university functions, particularly in the relationship between professor and student. In the U.S. I’ve had so many professors who are incredibly invested in the success of their students, so when I got to France I was shocked to find that this wasn’t the case. This isn’t to say that I have bad professors because I think both of them are fantastic, however they need you to tell them where you’re at with class subjects and lectures in order for them to better accommodate to your needs. They don’t have office hours so it’s important that you talk to them right away before or after class. If that doesn’t work, then an email will have to suffice, however they tend to take a long time to reply, if they do reply. As an international student, I can’t expect my professors to read my mind so if something is wrong I have to speak up.

One kind of funny example of this last point comes from my first day at French university. I was with a friend from my program and we had taken really good notes throughout the entire class, then the professor wanted to assign exposés before the class was over. Now my friend and I weren’t technically registered for the class and she and I had yet to do our exposés with Marie-Christine so we figured we would wait until we got officially enrolled in the class before we volunteered to do an exposé for it. Well wouldn’t you know, the professor assigned exposés to everyone in the class and then asked if there was anyone who hadn’t yet volunteered. It was clear at this point that it was down to just a select few people who hadn’t, my friend and I included. So I raised my hand and asked if I could speak to the professor after class. It all went downhill from there. Instead of saying that she’d talk to me, she assigned my friend and I the very first exposé to be presented in a week. It took a second for the information to sink in and then suddenly class was over and everyone was gone. I went up to the professor and explained to her that I was an international student and that I wasn’t yet registered for her class and could I please not do the exposé next week? She enrolled me in her class right there and told me she anticipated my presentation. I was in a bad way after that. I called my mom and talked her through the situation and she did her best to encourage me.

My friend and I worked tirelessly all week and consulted Marie-Christine on how to do it, by the time the next class came around we were nervous. The professor invited us up to present and just as I got out of my seat I knocked my Hydroflask (those huge metal water bottles you see all over campus at Hope) off my desk onto the tile floor and let me just say it was not quiet. I was mortified! I quickly pulled myself together and we got up to do our presentation. It was a little weird considering we were two foreign students presenting in a language and format that made sense to everyone else in the room but us, but we did it! We finished and I swear I left that class feeling two inches taller!

So this story doesn’t really have much of a moral, but if I could do it again, knowing what I know now, I would have had a longer conversation with my professor and told her my situation: I’m not only an international student who doesn’t speak French as a first language, but also I’ve never done a presentation in the French format before. If I would have done that I’m not sure what the result would have been, but at least the professor would have been more aware of my situation so that maybe she would have given us more guidance and let us learn from other students before we had to present ourselves.

In sum, school here is difficult. It’s difficult to summarize my entire six weeks of schooling in just a few pages of writing, but while it has been a challenge, I also know that I’m growing immensely. Just yesterday I went to an extra-curricular lecture and started talking to a professor in French, he thought I was in France for my masters degree and was shocked to find out that I was just here for a semester after only having visited the country once before. It’s moments like this that remind me that despite this program’s difficulty, I am making progress.

La Vie Française

Hello, world! I am back at it and this time not suffering from the negative effects of jet lag! I have now been in Paris for almost a month so I feel that I’m much more able to start posting about happenings and life in general in Paris now that I’m better acquainted with the city. This week we are talking about: the French home.

My study abroad program, French and Critical Studies with CIEE, is a language intensive program which means that everything that we do associated with CIEE is in French. What that means is that the program forces us to be fully immersed in the language ALL .THE. TIME. CIEE in Paris has two options for housing: student apartments or a homestay with a French family. The students in FCS, however, don’t have a choice; we are required to live in a home stay in order to keep us exposed to the French language.

That being said, for the past month I have been living with my host mother, Katherine (pronounced Kat-rine with a nice French rgh) who, as I mentioned in the previous post, doesn’t speak a word of English. When I first learned this, I was terrified that she and I would struggle to relate with one another; I feared that I wouldn’t be able to express myself. However, we are nearly a month into living, speaking, and dining with each other every single day and I can confidently say that my fears were completely unfounded.

You see, Katherine loves, and I mean LOVES to talk. She sits with me at breakfast every morning and listens to the radio, but as soon as she hears something that sparks her interest the radio is forgotten and she is speaking, with a relatively high level of knowledge about the subject and flowing right on into the next one. This was especially great for me the first few days into living with her because there really wasn’t a need for me to talk and I could get used to the pace of speech from an actual French speaker. These days I’m much better able to interject with my own opinions on the subject and she and I can have more and more conversations which I think both she and I really appreciate.

As I’ve been able to communicate with Katherine, I’ve learned a lot more about her and her life. She is in her 70s with three grown daughters, two of whom live nearby and frequent the apartment. She started her professional life as a secretary but somehow got connected with someone in the art restoration business which led to her second and most favorite career as an art restorer. She told me that she’s worked on a team that has restored big pieces of art such a painted ceiling in the Louvre and another work in l’Assemblée Nationale. She still does some smaller pieces and I occasionally come home to the smell of some of her chemicals that she uses on the paintings.

Speaking of home, for Katherine and me home is a two bedroom apartment in the northwestern suburb of Paris called Neuilly-Sur-Seine. There I have my own room with a big window that looks out over our ally with those cute white Parisian window shutters. I also just have to mention: in the bathroom we have a heating rack for our towels! It’s pretty standard for French homes but I just find it amusing and also incredibly amazing when I get to wrap myself in a warm towel — it’s just great.

My bedroom

Our living room

A little bit about Neuilly: it’s smack dab in between l’Arc de Triomphe (that fancy Roman-looking arch that Napoleon built way back when) and La Defense which is just a gigantic hollow cube in the more business-y part of Paris. Neuilly, as I’m told, is rather chic, although I can’t say that stops people from letting their dogs “relieve” themselves on the sidewalks and not clean up after them. Yeah, watch your step.

Other than that, I’ve found that our apartment in Neuilly is actually in quite an ideal location. It takes me about four minutes to walk to the metro which will then take me straight into the city which can connect me to ten of the fourteen lines in the city. I am also just a ten minute walk away from the Bois de Boulogne which is to Paris what Central Park is to New York. Saturdays are especially hectic with runners and walkers everywhere, not to mention tons of adorable dogs out playing in the fields.

Bois de Boulogne
Some new friends I met in the park

Another essential part of my French home life is the food. Katherine is an amazing cook. She can turn anything into a delicious and nutritious meal. I remember my first night with her I was a little apprehensive when she put my first meal in front of me: cabbage wrapped in ham and covered in cheese. As far as looks went, I was strongly questioning whether what I was about to put into my body would even be worth it, but I was starving so I dug in and it was incredible! Also, leftover night at our place is not to be dreaded because she just whips something completely new together from the ingredients she used previously. I’m serious — carrot and mushroom in a creamy sauce over angel hair pasta…who would have thought?!

At times Paris can feel slightly exhausting and incredibly lonely; it’s hard to live in a place that you’re unfamiliar with around people who don’t know you or even speak your language. In a city where it is so easy to be anonymous sometimes you just want a taste of home. I’m sure every student who has studied in a foreign country understands exactly what I mean, but I have to remind myself how lucky I am to have this opportunity. When I get these kinds of feelings I’ve found that it’s best to talk to friends and family; they really are just a phone call away! Also, if you can find it, eat some of your favorite food. If you can’t find that, listen to some of your favorite songs or do the same activities you would at home. For me, I’ve found that going for a run helps me immensely because running has always been a very cathartic activity and it’s something that I’ve done first at home, then at school when I moved away from home, and now I can do it here!

No, things will not be exactly the same as they are at home but that’s precisely the purpose of study abroad: to gain a new perspective. Instead of being stuck on what I miss about my home in the U.S., I go out and explore to find new things that help me feel at home here.

Paris Reflections!

   

Since I arrived back in Michigan, I have been thinking and reflecting on my summer semester in Paris. I kept a journal from the first day I arrived in Paris, and detailed every moment and funny memory. Looking back, I am so glad I did this because I was able to better understand what I learned and see how I adapted to a foreign culture. Studying abroad in Paris was undoubtedly the best adventure in my life so far. I met the most incredible group of people through IES, who became my close friends I am blessed to have lived in France over the summer. If I typed out everything I learned about living in a foreign country, we would be here for hours. So to save the trouble, here is a short list of the best lessons I learned while living and studying in Paris:

  1. “So much of who we are is where we have been.” -William Langewiesche. I found this quote written in graffiti on a wall in Paris near the Seine River, and it resonated with me as I progressed through studying abroad. I felt myself becoming more adventurous, where I traveled by myself to Belgium, Luxembourg, and Stonehenge. I felt myself becoming more comfortable speaking a language I had never studied before, where I was not afraid speaking French with locals. I felt myself falling in love with Paris. So much of who I am will remain in Paris.
  2. Bread will never be the same. When it comes to bakeries, the French have this perfected to an art. I probably ate my weight in croissants and baguettes, but French bread is incredibly delicious. My favorite dessert, and what I will miss the most about French food, is Pan du Chocolat (chocolate-filled croissant). Hopefully I can find an authentic French bakery in Michigan!
  3. Travel. Travel. Travel. Traveling within Europe is incredibly cheap and easy. When are you ever going to live in a foreign country again in your life? Take advantage of every opportunity and leave no stone unturned. My group and I went to London, England together, and I went to Brussels, Belgium and Luxembourg City, Luxembourg by myself. My group was more interested in exploring Paris than traveling far, but I didn’t let that falter my plans. Even if you have to go alone, don’t regret not going somewhere. I had a blast both on my own and with my group. Also, I learned how to book travel accommodations and research places to go all on my own. When my flights were delayed and trains became cancelled due to strikes, I figured out alternate routes on my own last minute. How cool is that? Travel, and travel far.
  4. The Eiffel Tower never gets old. From the first time I saw the Iron Lady to the last night under the sparkling lights, I never grew tired of looking at how beautiful the tower is. Every Wednesday, my friends and I had a picnic under the tower to watch the sunset and sparkling lights. I always looked forward to every Wednesday, and could not get enough of the Eiffel Tower. The view from the top of the tower isn’t bad either, but I’d much rather watch the lights sparkle with a baguette and wine from our secret terrace we found.
  5. Take the leap and study abroad. I have to admit, I was a little nervous just before I left. I had never traveled on my own before and had never been to Europe. I would have to learn a new language and learn to navigate a foreign country. Luckily, the nerves went away the second I got to my apartment. I fell in love with Paris and made incredible friends in my study abroad group. I learned a ton in my classes that I know will take me far in the rest of my studies. I created internship connections through my professors. I tried food I never thought I would dare eat. I traveled alone to other countries. I saw Stonehenge. Nothing will ever compare to what I experienced, and most importantly, I learned that a classroom is much more than four white walls.

Take the leap and study abroad; you just might learn something about the world around you.

À bientôt, et je t’aime Paris!

-Alissa Smith

My Last Week in Paris!

Finals week finally arrived for all of us at IES Paris! While I feel like I’ve only been in Paris for one day, it’s been seven weeks of unforgettable experiences. Since our finals happened to be on the Fourth of July, the staff at IES Paris decorated the IES center with American flags and streamers. Our professors and staff have been incredible to work with, and we’ve all become extremely close. It’s hard to turn in our last final, but we’ve all learned so much and made great internship connections.

After we crammed for finals and turned in our exams, IES took everyone out to a fancy farewell lunch at a restaurant called Deuz. We were served fried eggplant rolls filled with goat cheese (sounds weird, but I promise it’s actually the best appetizer I’ve had), and some of the best duck in Paris with everyone at IES Paris. We were sad to say goodbye and we all hope to come back to Paris to visit everyone!

Even though it was the last week, we still had some exploring left to do. We visited the Paris Mosque, which is one of the most beautiful and intricately decorated buildings in Paris. The bright blue tile floors were gorgeous in the sunlight, and the mint tea served there changed my life. Tea will never be the same. The gardens were beautiful, and since the Mosque is a hidden gem of Paris, we were able to enjoy the gardens in peace with no tourists.

   

A few of my friends from Avondale (my high school in Michigan) happened to be in Paris while on their trip through Europe during my last week. I was super excited to meet up with them! I took them to my favorite crêpe place, La Crêperie de Josselin for lunch. We had a blast catching up and exchanging travel stories, all while enjoying some of the tastiest crêpes in Paris! (Shout out to the IES Paris staff for introducing me to this crêperie!)

Shortly after, I explored the city visiting some of the places I still needed to cross off my list. One of these places was the famous Love Lock Bridge. This bridge is an icon of Paris, but unfortunately Paris removes the locks each month to keep the bridge from collapsing. Although, I was not disappointed, as there were hundreds of locks on the bridge. I hope to come back one day and put a lock on the bridge, as this ranks pretty high on my bucket list!

For my last night in Paris, I decided to do something special for myself. I bought a ticket to the top of Montparnasse Tower, which is the tallest building in Paris. I stayed for the sunset and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night. The view was breathtaking and I could see for miles beyond Paris. I enjoyed some fantastic chocolate mousse while watching the sunset from the skydeck, because when in Paris, why not?! It was a great way to close my summer semester in Paris and the view of the city is something I will never forget.

Au revoir, Paris!

-Alissa Smith

Musée d’Orsay, Top of the Eiffel Tower, and the World Cup!

I was able to visit the Musée d’Orsay over the past week, which is a very unique museum. The museum itself is inside the old Paris train station, built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. Musée d’Orsay houses several famous artworks, including an entire wing of Vincent van Gogh paintings. If you climb to the top floor of the museum, you can look out across the Seine and have a great view of the Louvre from behind the famous Orsay clock. The Musée d’Orsay was one of my favorite museums in Paris and I can’t wait to come back soon!

  

  

  

When in Paris, going to the top of the Eiffel Tower is on everyone’s list. Unfortunately, elevator tickets sold out months in advance, which meant I had to climb the 674 stairs to the top. The climb was not bad, as I had a great view at the top of every staircase. Once I finally reached the top, the view was breathtaking! I could see all of Paris and into the hills of the French countryside. The climb was definitely worth the hard work for the amazing views! (I treated myself to some French ice cream at the top of course).

  

I was lucky enough to have to opportunity to study abroad during the World Cup. France has been playing exceptionally well in the tournament, which means all of Paris is constantly celebrating their victories. My group and I attended one of the World Cup watch parties on a Paris rooftop. The place was packed with French soccer fans, and everyone went wild when France scored to win the game against Australia. After the game, everyone took to the streets to celebrate the win. There was crowd surfing and free food, which made for an amazing day. The game also happened to be on the same day as Fête de la Musique, which is France’s national day of music. There were live music stages on every street corner, combined with the crazy energy of French soccer fans. This was definitely one of my top experiences in Paris!

À Bientôt!

-Alissa Smith