Paris, France 2016-2017 Study Abroad Reflection

by ALIA FLANIGAN, Contributor

I decided to study abroad in Paris, France just after learning one year of French in college. When I arrived in August, I was only supposed to stay for the fall semester.  However, as soon as I arrived, I already knew that the time would be too short. I extended my stay an additional semester, allowing me to be fully immersed in the culture there.  When my program, MICEFA put us in a hostel the first week, I got paired with a girl from NYC. We quickly became friends and decided to get an apartment together that same day. We found this adorable french apartment with two floors and a spiral staircase right across from Notre Dame cathedral. As soon as we saw the staircase, we knew we found our new home. We quickly friended other people from our program and Parisians.

I went to Institut Catholique de Paris (ICP) for most of my classes. It was a small private school in the 6eme arrondissement right near Saint Sulpice. For me, it was a five minute metro ride or a 20 minute walk. When it was warm out, I would walk over to my university and stop in Pierre Hermé and buy some macarons or a pastry for the walk home. I got to take some really interesting classes such as Conflict Analysis where we looked at conflicts in regions all around the world and analyzed the reasons and resolutions. ICP did not provide french learning classes for beginners so I had to take French Grammar and Modern French with french students. The French school system is very different than in the United States. The professors in France lecture for three hours once a week with one final exam at the end of the semester. They do not offer after-school assistance or even an email to ask questions. Adapting to french standards was a bit hard because we were used to the hands-on system American schools provide.

The biggest culture shock for me was how fast the French speak. After just one year of learning french in college, my language skills were just below conversant. I was able to acknowledge french and try to respond, but most of the time they would reply back in English. This was a bit frustrating for someone who is trying to learn to speak french. Luckily, I had friends that helped and books I read to help my reading skills. Mostly everyone in Paris spoke English but if you did not say Bonjour to them, they would not help you.

During my stay in Paris, I got to travel to many different countries and cities and experience different cultures. If I wasn’t exploring Paris on the weekends, I was exploring the rest of Europe. My friends and I went to Verona and Milan exploring the origins of Romeo and Juliet. We wrote to Juliet asking for advice and a month later we received handwritten responses. I was able to ski the German Alps during winter break and go to Eastern Europe for spring break. Fortunately, France had so much to offer us during our time there. I got the opportunity to row a boat in Versailles, smell the flowers in Monet’s garden in Giverny and dance in a techno-parade in the streets of Paris. There were always events going on around the city which kept us busy.  There was a famous store named Colette’s that had a 20th anniversary “beach” party with a river of plastic balls where we could jump in and relax on watermelon and flamingo floats. Paris always kept us on our toes.

One of the best parts of this diverse city was the food. Right down the street from our apartment was a little fondue restaurant called Heureux Comme Alexandre. We ate there for Thanksgiving, New Year’s and any event that we felt like celebrating. Every morning, we would go around the corner and buy a freshly baked baguette or a croissant for breakfast. On Saturdays, the market was open and everyone would buy their fresh produce and meats there along with some flowers freshly picked.

The Eiffel Tower sparkled every night and reminded us of the beauty of the city. One of the great wonders of Paris is how much history and art it offers on every street. There is always a museum or an old church on la rue. Maybe it was the street Picasso painted his paintings, or Ernest Hemingway walked down. Right near my apartment was Shakespeare & Co where you can see famous books while looking at the Notre Dame.

To say goodbye to Paris was a hard moment. On my last night, my friends and I sat by the Seine and listened to the jazz music playing down the river. We relished in the memories we made over the year and the friendships we had. We talked about people we met and clubs we danced at. We laughed over how many times we went to Le Chat Noir and how this was our home and will always be. Even though I left Paris, my heart never did. I have a feeling, I will return and maybe it will be for good that time.