Nicole Howell | Paris, France | Post 1

Nicole Howell | Paris, France | Post 1

Hello from Paris!

As of right now, I’ve been in Paris for three weeks, and it has already been a huge whirlwind of fun, stress, and excitement! So many things have happened already in this short amount of time that a review of all of them is honestly impossible, so instead I’m going to focus more generally on what this initial adjustment period has been like for me.

Studying abroad has been something I have looked forward to for a long time; I’m a French and Francophone Studies major at Vassar and I’ve studied the language since middle school, but this is my first time in France or any French-speaking country. This context has been a defining factor of these past few weeks for me, mostly because I had to jump right into being a student without first having the chance to be a tourist. Day one in Paris was a jet-lagged haze of meeting the other students on the program and of falling asleep by 9 p.m., and then on day two, orientation was already in full swing. Within the next few days, we ate bagged lunches that honestly made the Deece look ideal, went and bought French SIM cards for our phone, moved in with our host families, opened French bank accounts, and had lectures on grammar and culture and safety. We were told from the moment we got off the plane to try to shed our American ways and not look or behave like “tourists” (which, I admit, is a very important part of the JYA experience).

Being a tourist in front of the Arc de Triomphe

…But at the same time… a “tourist” is exactly what I wanted to be when I first arrived! Almost everyone else on the program has already been to France at least once, but for me, I’d never seen the sights, climbed the Eiffel Tower, strolled the Champs-Elysees, eaten a real French croissant or baguette or éclair or macaron (as you can tell, food is an incredibly important part of my ideal abroad experience). I know that those things aren’t indicative of “real” Parisian life, and I certainly don’t want my entire semester to be defined by those cardboard cutouts of French culture, but I have to do them all at least once! And finding the time to do those things was–and still is–pretty challenging. I still haven’t climbed the Eiffel Tower, it took me a week to check out the Arc de Triomphe, I’ve only been to two museums, and a full two weeks had passed before I purchased my first croissant (which honestly just seems so blasphemous to me when I think about it). But now that orientation is over, I’ve had more free time, making it easier to find the right balance between settling into my temporary life here, while also still getting to experience the touristy side of things too.

Though she hasn’t climbed the Eiffel Tower yet, Nicole has seen it from afar while exploring the quartier where she lives.
The incredible view from the top of each side of the Arc de Triomphe. If you’re planning on visiting it too, Nicole recommends you wear comfy shoes and go just before sunset.

That being said, there have already been a few times where I’ve had an afternoon or a couple hours of free time, and I spent the entirety of that time trying to figure out what to do with that time, never even leaving the apartment. As anyone who is friends with me at Vassar can attest to, if I am presented with too many options, I get easily overwhelmed, can’t make decisions, and then end up doing nothing instead. This happens all the time with me in the small scale of the Vassar bubble, so you can imagine how likely this is to happen in a big foreign city with literally endless options each day.

This is not a habit I want to continue while in Paris, because I’m only here for four months and want to make the most out of every moment I have! So to combat this tendency, I’ve since created several to-do lists to motivate me: one list for sights to see, one for stores to shop in, one for renowned chocolatiers and pastry shops to test out (a.k.a. the most important list), and one for bars and restaurants to go to (a.k.a. the second most important list). The lists are helping me be both spontaneous and decisive (a difficult balance for me to strike), and they’ve already made a big difference for me!

A veal stew with a glass of wine from the amazing restaurant Cocottes
A delicious tarte au chocolat from Cocottes

In any case, these past few weeks have been defined by adjustments of all different types and magnitudes. Moving in with my host family (whom I had never spoken to before I showed up at their door) was–and still is–a big adjustment. Using mustard as an extremely common condiment here: small adjustment. Taking public transportation everywhere for the first time in my life: big (but surprisingly easy) adjustment. Communicating exclusively in a language that I previously only ever used twice a week in class at a speaking level so basic that even the 11-year old kid in my host family corrects my grammar: huge (and exhausting yet still rewarding) adjustment. Being able to drink legally in a country that loves wine as much as I do: very easy adjustment.

Despite how overwhelming all of these adjustments are, I am so excited to be here and am looking forward to all of the incredible experiences ahead of me. I’ve only been here three weeks (most of this time being consumed by orientation), but I’ve already eaten the best caramel of my life (Jacques Genin, 10/10 would recommend), snowshoed up a mountain, watched the sunset from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, tried duck confit for the first time (which I enjoyed), tried sausage made from pork intestines (which I did NOT enjoy), been inspired by an incredible exhibit at the Musee de L’Orangerie celebrating women photographers from the 1800s, milked a goat at a local farm, eaten fondu in the Jura mountains and so much more. And even though I still haven’t climbed the Eiffel Tower or eaten a real French éclair, I know that I still have plenty of time ahead of me to do that–and everything else on my lists–as well!

The view from the top made the afternoon of trekking up a mountain entirely worth it.

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