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Looking back on Paris

Abby Reudelsterz, European Union Studies, 2013

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been back in the U.S. for almost four weeks now. Since my return from Paris, I’ve had countless friends and family members ask about my experience abroad. I always tell them that I had a fun time and a great experience, but it is hard to put into words what it is like to live in another culture for a long period of time.

L’Hôtel de ville

The transition to life in France was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be and readjusting to life in the U.S. has not been too difficult, either. Maybe that is because I am used to being away from home to attend school at Northwestern, and I have learned to adapt to living in new environments. After I came back home to Minnesota, life went back to how it has always been, but there are things that I am more aware of now.

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris in the fall 

While living in France, I grew accustomed to long, relaxed meals with lots of conversation. The first time I ate in a restaurant after coming home from abroad, I became frustrated with the waiter for constantly checking in at our table and making me feel rushed, but no one else felt the same way. I was used to the cold, inattentive Parisian waiters. I remember eating in one restaurant in Europe in which the waiter disappeared after giving us our food and did not return for two hours. My friends and I were confused, but as we did not have anywhere to be, we embraced the time and used it to get to know each other better. I really miss just sitting and talking for a long time after a meal. In the U.S., my family normally moves right on to the next activity after we finish eating, but I made an effort during this Christmas season to have longer conversations at meal times to catch up on each other’s lives and enjoy each other’s company.

La Basilique du Sacré Cœur in Montmartre

The slower pace of life in France is a double-edged sword. While the Parisians taught me how to slow down to enjoy the moment and not always be in a rush, their inefficiency and seeming lack of ambition was frustrating at times. Most of the people that I encountered in stores and restaurants did not seem interested in their job, and they made little effort to accommodate customers. However, every once in a while, someone would perk up. When I stopped at the bakery early in the morning on my last day in France, I ordered pain aux figues. The baker lit up and raved all about it. She casually walked around the bakery to pick up my loaf, and continued to talk to me despite the long line of customers waiting to order. I only understood about half of what she told me, and I probably made some people late for work, but I must say that it was some of the best bread I had ever eaten.

My experience in Paris and Europe has made me eager to explore the rest of the world and see the way other people live. I have a new perspective on the way I evaluate my quality of life and I am taking a new approach to a lot of the things that I do. Studying abroad was one of the best experiences I have had at Northwestern, and I will always appreciate the time I spent in Paris.

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