The first thought I had when I landed at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris was, “Is it too late for me to turn around and go home?” For the person who in high school begged her parents to allow her to go on the French exchange, only to be told she would have to wait until junior year in college to go abroad, this thought was a rather strange one to be having. It seemed like I had packed everything in my suitcase except for my excitement. Once I arrived at my homestay in the 10th arrondissement (which is removed from the center of Paris, but still in the city limits), I was given a tour of the apartment by my hostess and was introduced to my roommate, another girl from BC, and I went to my room, closed the door, sat on the bed, and fell asleep, my mind spinning with self-doubt. I was petrified that I had just made the biggest mistake of my life.
The next day, I woke up feeling more rested, but just as scared. My roommate and I decided that since it was Sunday, we would go to a local church for our first taste of French culture. The mass was, obviously, in French, but we could follow along well because the pattern of the mass was exactly the same. I honestly have never been so grateful for the strict traditions of the Catholic church.
It felt like I was in a home of sorts, where I knew just where to find the table, my seat, and the order of affairs. When we sang the “Sanctus” (in Latin), it was even the exact same melody we use at my church at home. It was nice to have something familiar to start my day, and I found myself starting to relax a little bit more, but I was still very much ill at ease in my new surroundings.
After mass, we hopped on the Metro. We looked at a map that made my head spin and figured out which line we needed to take and the stop at which we needed to get off. The Metro turned out to be easier to navigate than the map indicated, and the ride was great. Right before we got to the stop, there was an apartment building. Then, all of a sudden, when the building rushed past … BAM. THERE IT WAS. The Eiffel Tower! My eyes became moist, but my tears were not an expression of loneliness and fear, but of happiness and belonging. When I saw that iconic Parisian landmark, the experience of being in Paris became very real to me. I was finally realizing my dreams.
As great as this experience was, it did not completely erase every worry I had about being abroad. That night, I still cried when I went home because I missed my parents, my sister, my family, and my friends. But every day, as I’ve settled into a routine of going to classes and seeing landmarks that I’ve only read about in books, I’ve begun to feel more and more like Paris is another home. Granted, I’ve only been here for a week, but I already have memorized the Metro stops that will get me back to my apartment, figured out the fastest route to get to class, and discovered my favorite quarter. Slowly but surely, I am making this place and this experience my own adventure.
It’s very easy to see the study abroad experience through rose-tinted glasses before embarking on the journey. Everything seems like it will be just so, like a neat little picture on the front of a travel brochure. Once there, it’s equally easy to see everyone else’s experience through those colorful lenses and to look at your own through foggy sunglasses. My limited time in Paris has taught me that in order to see clearly and to live the experience truly, it’s important to remove your metaphorical sunglasses, and let the sunshine hit your face and cast the shadow of doubt behind you where it belongs.
I know that I am going to see countless monuments, take interesting classes, and meet wonderful people during my time in the City of Lights. I believe the most illuminating piece of my experience will be watching myself grow and change over the course of this semester, though. When the sun does finally begin to set on my semester abroad, I will be incredibly sad. But, I will love my sunset more because it shines with the light of my adventure.
Featured Image by AP Exchange