It is hard to believe that I am studying abroad for a semester. My summers spent abroad have been much less daunting. A few weeks of going on adventures and exploring new places is the perfect summer vacation, but doing the same for a whole semester raises many questions. Seeing my friends go off to college and falling back into a routine that I am so familiar with left me a little uneasy. I was taking a risk, and had no idea what the next few months had in store for me. It took me a long time to accept that even though I am not taking courses offered at my university, the experiences that I will have are invaluable.
This is the first year that APA is offering the multi-country program, and I chose it because I wanted to travel as much as possible and experience different cultures. I wanted to learn about multiple francophone countries, and not just France. I am still in awe that a program like this exists and I had the guts to commit to it. Before I left home, I made sure to demolish one last American burger, hoping that the taste of salt and grease would prevent me from getting homesick.
Finding the Soul of the City
We arrived in Paris on Tuesday. Unfortunately it was morning when we arrived, so we were expected to participate in the orientation activities running on little to no sleep. I stepped out of the plane feeling like a zombie who had just watched two mediocre movies. The last time I was in Paris I had also arrived in the morning, and walked the streets of Paris with my eyes half closed, taking every opportunity to nap even if it was just for the few seconds before the stop-lights turned green. This time was no different. Our first stop after the hotel was the Jardin du Luxembourg, and I could not stay awake for all of our conversations so I took a few stealthy naps. Caroline, who works for APA introduced us to some French slang (now I know to add “bah” and “gens” in the middle of my sentences to sound slightly more authentic) and stereotypes. For dinner, we had a picnic at the garden, and immediately after we got to the hotel I crashed.
The next few days of orientation were both stressful and amazing. I was still getting used to the new environment, and it was somehow hard to believe that we were actually in Paris. Because orientation was only three days, we often sped-walked through neighborhoods to see as much as possible. Over the course of the week, we visited Marais, the Panthéon, Mouffetard, la Butte aux Cailles, and took a bateau mouche tour on the Seine.
However, walking on the cobblestone streets and seeing strings of never-ending wine shops, cheese stores, bakeries and fruit stands made me feel like we were simply gazing at emblems of the European lifestyle. The spirit of Paris did not come through on our little tours, but I think as we settled into our host families and spent more time on our own discovering the city, Paris eventually became less of a stranger.
My host family experience in France so far has been very different from my host family experience in Senegal. We all got our placements on Friday, and I was very nervous about meeting my family. Of course I wanted them to like me, and I wanted to like them too. I was initially disappointed that I got placed into a family that consisted of a young couple, because I was really hoping for a large family with lots of kids. The first time we met each other, I was one bad thought away from bursting into tears. Mostly it was pent up anxiety and fatigue. When I arrived at their apartment, all my fears immediately dissipated. Not only was the apartment really cozy, my host parents turned out to be extremely friendly and nice. We had good conversations over dinner, and I ended the first night watching a French rom-com with my host mom.
I forgot to mention what the group is like! There are only six of us total, and all of us women. Three of the girls are from GWU, and the rest of us are scattered around east-coast schools. I was initially very worried about the dynamics, but everyone is very nice and passionate about learning. The most important thing while traveling is to have a good attitude, which everyone has, so I am confident that we will all have a great time together.
On a semi-related note, a few of us downloaded some dating apps in an attempt to meet more locals. While I did go on one successful rendez-vous where I had the chance to see another gorgeous part of the city, I think that I mostly have lost sleep from relentless swiping. I will say that I did engage in some interesting conversations (in French bien sûr) about race, stand-up, student life, and French culture in general. 5/10 would recommend.
Start of Classes
I was extremely excited for classes to start. Partially because all my friends back home had already started class, and also because I was genuinely interested in the classes being offered. Our classes started Monday, and each class is three hours long. Apart from the fact that I have trouble staying concentrated for three hours (even two-hour seminars at my university are painful for me), the classes have been amazing. We are each taking four classes, plus a French class every Tuesday. The best thing is that we have Fridays off, so I’m hoping to travel or museum hop.
Overall, I definitely experienced a lot of ups and downs, but I am very optimistic! There is always so much to do! À la prochaine !