Five months ago, I got blurry eyed off a plane and ventured onto the RER train system for the first time with another ND student I met up with at the airport. That night my friend and I walked 12 miles across Paris looking for the perfect dinner and decided to walk all the way to the Eiffel Tower. So much has happened since that first night, and I love to see the ways that Paris has truly changed my life. It’s crazy to look back at the semester that just took place and try to sum up everything that was Paris in just a few words.
Paris was risk taking. While Notre Dame has a lot of long established study abroad programs around the world, the Paris program was basically brand new when I signed up to go. Diving into a brand new program oftentimes means saying yes to uncertainties. We didn’t know what classes we would be taking until we arrived in France. As only one student had gone before our group did, we didn’t have very much previous experience to go off of. And, unlike many Notre Dame programs abroad, we didn’t have any ND representatives on site. But we survived! At times, it was scary- but Paris was all about accepting the adventure and realizing that every thing would work out.
Paris was discovering independence. One of the skills that I think I have really gained from studying abroad is the ability to start a life for myself in a new, big city. I had to learn to find grocery stores I like and cook for myself. I had to learn how to navigate a sprawling public transportation system. I had to learn how to apply for French social security. I had to learn how to plan trips and even take some of them by myself. I had to make new foreign friends, find fitness classes, and be successful in my new academic classes. It was a huge growing experience and I am so happy to have this newfound maturity for when I graduate and have to establish myself in the “real world.”
Paris was never boring. At Notre Dame, when my classes got out, my usual after class ritual usually involved some combination of studying, sleeping, Netflix, and extracurriculars. In Paris, every spare moment was a chance to explore the city. I tried to use my down time as a chance to visit museums (both the world-known ones and the quirky ones), relax in parks (Paris has some amazing parks), or check out some of the adorable shops and cafes throughout the city. In this way, I feel like I gained a ton insight into culture, history, and art.
Paris was making new friends. I got a chance to know people from all over the world during my semester abroad. While starring in a student film, I got a chance to meet some amazing French friends. I met some awesome friends from the University of Massachusetts who I traveled to Norway with. I made a tight knit group with the wonderful students who I shared a kitchen with- often hanging out around the dinner table to get a chance to hear about their days. I travelled alone in Germany and Austria and was able to meet lots of new people simply by putting myself out of my comfort zone. In my classes, I got to meet new people from France, Germany, Ireland, Denmark, England, and Greece. I am so thankful for each friendship I’ve made and genuinely hope they endure past this semester.
Paris was family. There were seven Notre Dame students in Paris this semester- five of us at Diderot and two at Science Po. While I vaguely knew everyone in the program beforehand, they’ve now become some of my closest friends. We spent a lot of time together- exploring every corner of the city, sharing meals, going to events, and travelling. In addition we spent a good amount of time just talking- discussing the ups and downs of our experiences in Paris and helping each other make the most of our time there. Whether it was someone to rant to, someone to grab coffee or dinner with, or someone to travel Europe with- our little family was there for each other through it all.
This past Sunday, the night before I left - my friends and I decided to recreate the walk from the first night - walking once again from our dorm to the Eiffel Tower. It was interesting to walk in my own footprints and see how differently I saw Paris now after a semester studying there. It was also interesting to realize the way that each person in our group had created our abroad experiences that were beyond the landmarks, boutiques, and museums; the experiences were unique to each person. To me, Paris was crepes from the small stand outside our dorm, evening yoga classes near Opera, and Sunday brunches at Breakfast in America. A semester abroad, especially in a program like Paris, is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences you can have as a student. I am so grateful for the time I’ve had in this city, and it's something I’ll carry with me my whole life. My favorite author, Ernest Hemingway, in his memoir The Movable Feast, put it best: “There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”