Pre-Departure: Les Plans

I’m writing this post while on the Intercampus shuttle home after my last full day of work this summer. In my backpack are a few books, assorted pens (taken from my work desk, of course), and four printed maps of Paris’ public transit system. I’d love to be able to tune out and read, but, as you could guess, I can’t get Paris out of my mind. I’ve spent my breaks of the past few days planning every possible trip I could make, tracing along the lines of the closest metro routes (for me, the RER B and ligne 4), and imagining myself walking along the streets of a city that I’ve dreamed to live in for years.

I like maps, and they’ve often helped me to make sense of naturally unwieldy cities. Where I live now (Evanston), every time I look at a whole map of Chicago, I’m able to remind myself of all the small areas and nooks that I’ve visited, but also of the vast expanse of urban space that I still haven’t seen. And maps of public transportation contain so much information – not only are they useful, but they can give you a guess of where people are going and how neighborhoods are connected. Much like Chicago, I imagine that each metro stop I get off at will be the first step into a slightly different permutation of the city’s atmosphere. This way, I will be able to organize the city into small bits, each helping me scratch the surface of Paris just a little bit more. Once more, I trace my finger from Charles de Gaulle to the Port-Royal stop off the RER B line. This will be my first ‘trip’ I take upon arrival. I follow the 4 past the stop that I will likely get off every day to go to school (Saint-Germain-des-Prés). And I calculate the exact amount of time until I board my plane to leave.

Recently, my friends and family have asked (among many other questions) the classic “are you nervous?” I’ve always responded the same – strangely, no. I know that Paris will throw so many challenges at me that I can’t even begin to expect, but right now, I’m focusing on being excited. Perhaps that’s because the pas 10 months have all slowly built up to departure: meeting the Study Abroad advisors in November, applying in January, being accepted in February, submitting paperwork bit-by-bit throughout all the spring, and finding living accommodations in June. Or perhaps it’s simply because I have no idea what moving to another city and living on my own for four months will actually feel like. Either way, it’s helped to make these last few weeks in Evanston really quick, and very rarely anxiety-riddled.

I can’t wait to arrive. There’ll be a few days before my exchange begins the Welcome Programme, and I’m already planning out a day trip to Versailles, and trying to find lists of restaurants to dine at (with new friends!). Three years ago, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit Paris and stay with a host family informally. Since then, I’ve always dreamed of returning. Now, I can finally say that in less than 5 days I’ll be waking up in my small Parisian apartment (well, really, a chambre de bonne – “maid’s room,” but that just means I’m saving money to spend elsewhere!).

See you on the other side, Pa-reeh!