No one could have warned me about how strange it would be being back at Northwestern. A whole entire quarter has passed without me. When I left in August, there were still leaves on the trees and it was so hot that if you spent any amount of time outside you would find yourself covered in sweat. Now the trees are bare, snow covers the ground, and I can’t leave my apartment without a coat and gloves. Beyond the fact that the weather changed, I don’t necessarily feel like I’ve missed anything. It is strange, however, trying to find the old rhythms that I had once been used to.
I find myself missing Paris a lot more than I thought. I mean, it’s hard not to miss being able to walk almost anywhere, being surrounded by beautiful buildings, and the three bakeries within a two minute walk of my homestay. More than the superficial stuff, I also miss being somewhere so different from what I am used to. I’m always going to cherish living in a city where there was always a place to visit that broadened my view of the world.
Of course there are nice things about being back at Northwestern too. I missed my friends a lot, and its great to be taking theatre classes again. But I am trying to figure out the ways I am different after my experience as well as the things I want to keep with me. I think the biggest thing that has changed about me is that I have learned so much about a culture that was a complete mystery before. I have tried new foods, learned a little bit of a new language, and have been introduced to a new way to think about the world. As for what I wish to take with me, I hope that I learn to question everything around me even if I am in a familiar place. I also hope I stay as aware of what is going on outside of the US. Most importantly, I hope that I am able to continue to travel, so I can continue to learn more about the world.
It has been a little over a month since I came back from Paris and life as resumed its regular rhythm and tempo. After what seemed like ages in Paris, the whole experience now just seems so distant. However, that is not to say that the experience hasn’t had a profound impact on my life
Before studying at Northwestern, I never expected myself to study abroad. Frankly, if studying abroad wasn’t a requirement to study Global Health I know I would not have done it. It just seemed to out of context, not career-oriented enough. Now having embarked on such a journey, I can say that it has been one of my most memorable, if not the most memorable, experience that I have ever had. It has taught me that not everything needs to be a means to an end. Investing in your life experiences and becoming a more interesting person are just as valid and worthwhile as getting a 4.0 GPA. Sure they may not help me get into medical school one day, but they are experiences that make you grow as a person.
Studying abroad has left me with a new set of friends and loving host family in Paris, it has left me with a photo album full of European escapades and a lifetime of memories, and it has left me with a newfound appreciation and admiration of the French culture and language. In fact, I am continuing to learn French here at Northwestern! So, although I never would have expected to study abroad before, I can’t express how impactful it has been in my life.
Reflecting on my time in Paris, I realize that I will miss the feel of being in Paris the most. More so than any one landmark or event, walking across the streets that I became increasingly familiar with sticks with me the most. I first came to Paris tired and confused after a long flight, I left with the feeling that I knew Paris and its streets as if I had spent years in the city. Knowing a city involves a familiarity with both the famous areas and the smaller, everyday sights. I appreciate that the program gave me the opportunity to not just learn about the European Union, but to become familiar with a city I had only known from the media I consumed.
Back in Miami, enjoying a cortadito.
As I became more familiar with the city, I also developed friendships that I hope will last in Evanston and that my new friends and I have more experiences together in a more familiar place. Traveling to Paris has already changed my perspective on the world around me. Returning to Miami, I noticed that I look at familiar streets in a new light. Miami seems brighter now after my time in foggy Paris. The buildings that I drove past without paying much attention are more noticeable and give Miami a character that can only be noticed by time spent away from it. The ultimate goal of travel and of leaving my comfort zones to expand my worldview and I believe that learning a new language, traveling on the metro and walking on narrow streets has done just that.
Georges Braque, Les oiseaux
I didn’t go to the Louvre until the last two days before leaving Paris. Because I delayed the visit, there was much I did not get to see. However, let me leave Paris with a continued sense of novelty and awe. I had been to the Louvre previously, about four times, but, for one reason or another had not entered the sections of the building where the exhibitions were located. In the days leading up to my departure, I went with a couple of friends who in previous years had been many times to the museum and still going now they managed to see parts of the museum which they had never seen before. Other than its size, one of the most distinctive characteristics of the Louvre is the amount of art it holds. It is not the case that it is an enormous museum with few pieces of art. It is an enormous museum packed, nearly overflowing, with art. The museums I have been to in the past have usually been somewhat focused in the type of art they display. The Louvre is not like this. In the two days that I went, I saw exhibitions on Egyptian antiquities, art from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities, and decorative arts such as silverware, jewelry, rugs, furniture, and ceramics ranging from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Perhaps, one of the most impressive parts of the museum is the museum itself, specifically the ceilings. Many rooms were intricately decorated with sculptures that emerged from where the walls connected with the ceilings, which in many cases had paintings that would momentarily distract you from the exhibitions. Experiencing such beauty and novelty during my last days in Paris has left me with an impression of the city that I am glad to take home.
Before arriving in Paris, I was unsure of my decision to live in a homestay. Now that the program is nearly over I cannot imagine what my time here in Paris would have been like had I not lived in a homestay. The concept of a homestay is somewhat strange and daunting at first. People who do not know each other all of the sudden must begin living together. In my case, this resulted in many different people coming together. Apart from myself there was another student from Northwestern originally from Nebraska/Kansas, an art school student from Saudi Arabia who has lived and studied in Malaysia, and our host mother, a French woman whose children have now moved out. The difference in our backgrounds, although from the outside could be seen as a source of discomfort, came to be what resulted in one of the greatest sources of learning for me during my time abroad. At dinner, we would compare the way things were done or thought of in France, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Kansas, Chicago, and Peru. We talked about education and healthcare systems in each country, about how women were treated, particularly in Saudi Arabia, and about the politics of each country, among other things. I know that not everybody had such diverse backgrounds come together in their homestay, but to me it seems that the benefits of living together with such different people merits that the homestay experience be greatly encouraged for future students about to study abroad.
As I sit in my homestay during my last week in Paris, I can’t help but wonder how it all went by so fast. It feels like it was just yesterday I stepped off of the plane and was bombarded by signs in a language that looked a little bit like gibberish. Three and a half months later what had seemed so strange became familiar. I even knew a little French.
Hôtel de Ville
One of the most surprising things about Paris is that you really don’t have to try hard to stumble upon something special. During the first few days, we stayed in the center of the city at a youth hostel. I remember walking to class for the first time and being surprised when I looked up to see the Notre Dame Cathedral. Even when there aren’t major historical sites in view, there is still so much to explore. There will always be tiny parks, beautiful churches, and charming cafes at every corner. Not to mention adorable dogs.
City life comes with other challenges, of course. But considering the density of cool places to visit, all of which can be reached easily by metro or on foot, it seems like a small price to pay to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
As we are wrapping up our program, the atmosphere in our classes is beginning to frighteningly resemble classes in Evanston. Admittedly, the beginning of our program left us with ample free time, light work loads, and carefree mindsets. That is not to say that we weren’t learning. Our classes are and have been extremely interesting the entire quarter. All of the course material that we have learned has been amplified by the fact that we are learning it in Paris, a geographically-relevant location for our studies.
However, now that we are reaching finals, the all-too-familiar finals stress and anxiety have set in. In these last 2 weeks, the public health program has finished all but one of our courses. However, this class entails writing a 100 page (1.5, not double, spaced) group research paper along with an hour long presentation.
As stressful as writing a 100 page research paper in about 2 weeks would normally be, this anxiety is coupled with the frenzy that is accompanied with our imminent departure from Paris. All of us Northwestern students, not just the public health students, are scrambling to squeeze out every last bit of the Parisian experience that we can in these last few days. In between our hours of researching, group meetings, and essay-writing, we scramble to visit every last museum on our list (I finally saw the Mona Lisa), try that last quintessential Parisian dish, or enjoy our last espresso in a corner café.
This mix of stress from our finals, sadness from our inevitable departure from Paris, and excitement from our return to our native homes makes these last few days quite overwhelming. Wish us luck.
One of the most striking things about spending any amount of time in Europe is how “old” things are. In the United States, it feels like we are constantly looking for something new. How much of our history has been lost due to the people who got to decide what was important?
While it would be unfair to say that a lot of French history hasn’t been lost, it is overwhelming as an American to see how far back what they were able to preserve goes.
For example, while visiting Arles we were able to visit a Roman cemetery over 1500 years old. While the bodies were long gone, the sarcophagi that had once held them were still there. As my classmates and I walked and climbed around them, it was difficult to comprehend just how long this site had been around. Since then, it has become a place for people to visit. Vincent Van Gogh himself even painted a few paintings there.
In Paris proper, there are still places that you stumble on whose history can be overwhelming. It seems everywhere you go there is something older than you can comprehend. At the same this doesn’t mean that progress is completely impossible. It just needs to be made without forgetting what came before.
The very first few weeks we were in France, we visited the Palais Garnier. When we made it into the theater we were all taken aback by something unexpected–the ceiling. It in no way matched the style of the rest of theater. As we settled into the velvet seats, we were given its history. Apparently the original ceiling was damaged due to gas lighting and in the 60s it had been replaced with a fresco by Marc Chagall. But instead of going over the old design, a new ceiling was added over the original in case people changed their mind about the ceiling.
To Americans it may seem silly to preserve an old, damaged ceiling when there is a perfectly good ceiling over top. But we can’t argue that it’s not a very French thing to do. And besides, it’s kinda cool to look at knowing what kind of history lies underneath.
One of the beautiful aspects of studying abroad in Paris is that you can easily travel around Europe and even Northern Africa if you are feeling more adventurous. One of the most surprising things about traveling throughout Europe to me was how cheap it can be. Although it may take some time and planning, finding cheap transportation, housing, and meal options is very manageable. It is not uncommon to find plane or train tickets to another country under 100 euros. Our class schedule here in Paris includes a 1 week Fall break, a 2 day Thanksgiving break, and plenty of long weekends for ample opportunities to travel. Due to the fact that most European countries are within 2 hours of Paris by plane, traveling to other countries for short periods of time is also extremely manageable.
Although being able to travel so easily throughout Europe is a blessing, it can definitely be a curse as well. It can be easy to get caught up in the fact that traveling accessible. Some students plan trips for every open time period that they have. This becomes problematic when you don’t get to experience as much of Paris as you would like. I can say that I am experiencing this to a certain extent. With only one month left in Paris, I am realizing that there is still so much for me to see and experience in this beautiful city. Especially now that finals and project deadlines are approaching, it seems as if time is passing by all too quickly.
So my advice to anyone planning to study abroad in Europe would be to travel, by all means explore Europe. Studying abroad is a great time to do so. However, don’t forget that the city that you are living in is dying to be explored as well; take advantage of your time there and don’t take it for granted just because it has become the new norm.
Most of my friends said that I needed to visit the Catacombs during my study abroad. They considered it one of the most important sites in Paris. When I travelled to Italy in high school, I saw a display created by monks where they turned human bones into artwork. The Catacombs reminded me of that exhibit, but on a larger, more harrowing scale. After climbing down numerous stairs, I was struck by how large the walls of bones were. It felt both impressive and disturbing and I thought of the countless people who made up the ossuary. The low ceilings added a sense of claustrophobia to this memorial and made me all the more aware that I was surrounded by the remains of those that were long-gone.
Some of the bones were organized into shapes, like a heart. The heart of skulls reminded me that the morbid could be made beautiful. However, I could not help but question if the people whose skulls made this shape would appreciate the symbolism. Would they be aghast that their remains were used in this way? It raised an important question about whether a beautiful display is worth potentially going against the wishes of the people whose remains were used. It could also be argued that the Catacombs did these people a favor. They transcended their individual bodies and became something much bigger and more long-lasting in death. I may be unsure of how I ultimately feel about this unique burial ground, but it left an impression.