Featured image: A dramatic landscape during a visit to Chantilly with my host parents.
I’ve never been great at good-byes. I often leave events early, I’m quick on the phone and I avoid the long, drawn-out farewells that some family members and friends seem to adore. So, as I face my impending departure from Paris (I write this on my penultimate day in France, a rainy Saturday), I’ve been struggling to wrap my head around leaving a city that has tentatively become a home for these few months and a semester that has often left me happier and more fulfilled than others have. Many people have asked me if I’m excited to go home, and while I’m certainly looking forward to a summer in Los Angeles, to seeing my family and to certain comforts that come with being in one’s native language, I’m not actually all that excited to leave Paris.
Instead of thinking about what I’m leaving behind, I’d like to think that I’m taking a lot of knowledge, experiences and memories with me as I go forward. I don’t think study abroad has changed me drastically as a person—yes, I can generally order in a restaurant and read signs with much more ease than when I came here and I fear (with some perverse delight) that upon my return I’ll become that person who “swears there’s a better word in French” and accidentally says merci, au revoir when leaving a store. My personality is still very much the same, though, and even if I traveled a good amount and made myself go out and explore even when I wasn’t particularly in the mood to, I still largely stuck to what I was interested in and retained a bit of my homebodiness (old habits die hard).
There are, however, many small elements that I think will become clearer and clearer to me as having made a large impact during my time abroad.
From the initial airport catastrophe that made my program arrive two days late and completely miss the beginning of our orientation, I learned a lot of perseverance and perspective. If something starts off that badly, it can really only go up from there—and it did!
From being thrown into the deep end speaking French, I learned to have a little more self-confidence and assertiveness; most of all, that I have to trust myself and my memory and it’ll all slowly become easier. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made with the language during my time here and I’m eager to maintain that progress and keep up with French. It’s a privilege and a gift to be able to speak another language, and I have a renewed energy to continue reaching deeper and deeper levels of understanding in French.
From my French university classes, I am mostly taking away a lot of patience. Signing up semi-blindly for courses, not knowing a soul in any of my classes, being terrified my first few classes and then only on edge the rest of the time, completely misunderstanding certain instructions, feeling at an utter loss among French students who seemed to know how the entire enigmatic and elusive university system works, struggling initially to take notes and listen at the same time… In all, it was not necessarily ever easy, but I’m very glad I decided to take half of my courses at the Sorbonne; mostly, I can say I did it and now run back into the arms of the unforgiving, but at least comprehensible, Vassar registrar and of the departments I now know well. Plus I got to study art history in one of the art capitals of the world, so I really can’t complain, weekly anxieties notwithstanding.
From my internship, I learned a lot of office and professional protocol, from communicating with superiors to showing up on time every week (well, as on time as a French office demands) to working more independently at an internship than I’ve ever been expected to. It was affirming to meet so many people interested in similar things as I am and actively working, attending and participating in them. Most of all, though, I learned a lot about kindness, and working with people who were so nice to me and invested in integrating me, however temporarily, into their group and engaging me in conversation will really stick with me.
Lastly, from my host family, I’m taking away many lessons, both big and small. I’m immensely grateful to my kind, funny, interested and joyful host parents, and I’m glad I got to meet their daughters as well and see them all interact. I learned a lot about being new and foreign and about finding your place within a city that can be hard to penetrate. I learned that as long as you stay connected to where you come from and who you are, new experiences, new travels and new languages make a life richer, and that pursuing your dreams (in their case, moving to France and setting up a life here) is always worth it in the end. I think I’ll take away overall, though, the small things they do to brighten up their days and to lead a refined life in even the simplest ways—always having an abundance of fresh fruit and cheese; buying flowers to bring some of nature inside; lighting candles at dinnertime; proudly displaying your books and always buying more; and getting out of your environment every once in a while, whether it be on a day trip, a small getaway or just a walk in the local park on the weekend.
Well, I’ve reached the end of my last Far & Away post, my semester abroad and my last weekend in Paris, and suddenly I’m a rising senior avoiding facing an even larger departure next year. I’m still no better at saying goodbye, but I’m happy to reflect on everything I’ve overcome and everything I’ve gained this semester. Au revoir seems like an appropriate goodbye, until I see you again—I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I know I will, and in the meantime, I have a lot of memories to sift through and a lot of these smaller attitudes and pleasures to maintain. A huge thank you to everyone who made my study abroad possible and enjoyable, from my parents to friends new and old to the VWPP program. Au revoir, Paris, until we meet again.