My Summer in Paris

For my STEP Signature Project, I spent a month and a half in Paris, France with IES Abroad studying the French language and culture.  As a French major, this was an incredibly valuable opportunity for me to learn more about the language, culture, and people that I’ve dedicated my life to studying.  It also allowed me to grow immensely in terms of fluency due to the immersive environment of the program.  I attended two classes each day for four days a week in grammar and history. Through the program traveled to Giverny and Reims in France, as well as traveling with friends to Brussels, Belgium and Amsterdam, Netherlands on the weekends to learn about cultures and countries other than France.

I have learned so much about myself through this experience.  I’ve fallen in love with myself and my life as well as fostering an even deeper love for French and France.  I learned that just because life is hard doesn’t mean it is bad, and that it’s the difficult situations that cause us to grow as people.  Living for two months in a foreign country is hard– the culture can be shocking (hence the name “culture shock”).  It can be intimidating to go do something as simple as order food at Subway on the way home from class, like you’d done millions of times at home, because you have to do so in a different language.  I learned a lot about different cultural nuances, like how strangers interact with one another and what is socially acceptable to do in public in that country– and what isn’t.

My world view changed during this experience because I was hit hard by an understanding that these places are real. We spend our entire lives with a stereotype of a specific place or type of people in our mind.  Like Paris for example.  Hollywood portrays it as this glamorous city where everyone is stylish and thin, love is literally in the air, and life is perfect.  But it isn’t like that.  Paris is as real and raw a city as new York. There’s constant sirens and horn honking, garbage on the streets and homeless people begging for money.  But there’s also people spilling onto sidewalks from cafes, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes as they watch the world go buy, or reading quietly to themselves while taking the metro for their morning commute.  People in other countries and of other cultures are no different from you and me.  They are just as human, as flawed and invested in their own lives.  It’s made me want to travel even more, and experience other cultures and countries, using what I experience there to enrich myself.

Living with a host family and observing those around me truly helped me to have a better understanding of what life is like in another country.  We can learn the most about someone or something through observation, and I believe it was my watching of the people around me that gave me the best insight into French life.  I picked up eating with both a fork and knife, the French rarely eat with their hands.  I began speaking quiet, particularly in public, as the French are very private with their conversations.  I didn’t make eye contact or smile with strangers, because if I did I marked myself as a tourist.  I didn’t necessarily want to fit in, but I definitely didn’t want to stand out.  So I had to adopt the French habits so I could adapt to my new culture.

Living with a French family forced me to be flexible.  Living in someone else’s home isn’t always comfortable.  Its odd because though you may have privacy, you’re always conscious of the fact that it isn’t your space.  In my experience, my host parents would have guests over or they would leave for the weekend without telling me, and that was something I had to learn to accept and be flexible about.  I also ate things that I wouldn’t normally eat because I wanted to do what was expected of me and to be as polite as possible.  After all, they had invited me into their home. I had to follow rules that didn’t exist where I lived at home, and adjust to a different routine of life.

Coming from a suburb of Cleveland and going to school on such a large campus, I do a lot of driving.  That was not something I was able to do in Paris, and I had to learn how to get around like a Parisian.  I walked ten minute to a metro station every day before taking a 25 minute metro commute with two different trains to my stop near my class center, before walking five more minutes to the center itself.  This was a different experience for me because I had to block out 30-45 minutes to get anywhere I wanted to go, rather that 15-20 to drive wherever I needed to be.

It was because of these challenges and changes, and countless more, that I think I was able to be transformed through this experience.  I was essentially thrown into a new world and had to figure out how to get by.  It was very much a situation where U had to learn how to tread water so I didn’t sink.  And I believe closer to the end, I was getting a little better at swimming.

This transformation is significant and valuable in my life.  It’s significant because it caused me to transform into a more cultured, competent, brave, and confident version of myself.  I’ve learned to love things about myself that I didn’t love before this experience merely because I was forced to.  I was on my own in a country I didn’t know, with only myself for company at times.  I was forced to become best friends with myself and accept every part of who I am.

I also learned to cherish time.  Time, I’ve discovered at last, is incredibly fleeting.  My month and a half in France went by in the blink of an eye, and in order to truly get everything out of it I had to cherish every moment.  I don’t want to o through life anymore looking forward to the future, or relishing in the past, and forgetting to live in the moment.  This experience taught me how to truly live in the moment, and not just exist as I felt like I had been for a long time.

It’s valuable to my current life and my future in an academic and career-based aspect as well.  As a French major going on to become a French teacher, fluency and comprehension of the French language and culture is imperative.  Through this experience, I feel that I’ve truly gained a much deeper understanding and appreciation of those two things.  Through my acquisition of these things, I feel more prepared to go into my final year of my education and (hopefully) into my own French classroom a year from now.  I feel that it is almost impossible to try to teach about something you’ve never experienced first hard, but now that I’ve lived in France and had the experiences I did, I can authentically teach my students about the language and culture I love so much.

I also blogged my experiences while in Europe.  You can find it all here:

Thanks for reading!

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