“America is my country, and Paris is my hometown.” – Gertrude Stein.
Uttered by a leading literary figure and ex-pat, Ms. Stein sums up my thoughts and feelings on the city of Paris, France.
I studied abroad in Paris in the fall of 2010 as a junior, but I inquired about the study abroad process my freshman year. (Perhaps a little too eager on my part.) The process really starts your sophomore year, and just as a warning, be prepared for a lot of paperwork, photocopying that paperwork, and photocopying the copies. But all of that work is completely worth it. Case in point: When I obtained my student visa from the French Consulate in Boston, that’s when I knew, “I’m actually going to Paris!” When all of us in my program arrived in Paris, we went to see the Eiffel Tower light up at night. As it glittered and sparkled, a bunch of us cried, overwhelmed by the city and what the rest of the semester had in store.
I went through AIFS (American Institute for Foreign Study), but took my classes through the CCFS (Cours de civilisation française de la Sorbonne.) It’s a program that offers French language and civilization courses to international students. I had French language every day, along with a phonetics lab, and then classes in history, architecture, and fashion. Needless to say, I LOVED my classes! The AIFS staff in Paris, too, were wonderful people to visit during the week. I still keep in touch with the staff there.
One of my favorite weekends was in October that I spent in northwestern France, specifically in Normandy and Brittany. Our program arranged it all, and that trip included visiting the American Cemetery and Omaha Beach, one of the famed beaches of the D-Day Allied invasion of France. I stood on the beach, feeling the grains of sand in my fingers, my eyes wet with tears. It was moving to reflect on the grand scale of the invasion, and how it fit into the grander scheme of World War II.
The biggest gift of my experience was my host family. I stayed with an older couple in their beautiful Parisian home. Their hospitality and kindness left such an impression on me, and I am happy to write that I still keep in touch with them! I not only keep in touch with them, but I had the honor of staying with them again for spring break in March 2012. It was my senior year, and I couldn’t imagine leaving Salve Regina without revisiting a city which became such a large part of my Salve Regina experience.
I recently went back to Paris in March of this year. Now that I’m working full-time, I took a week off in March and revisited old haunts. I visited the AIFS staff (Shout-out to Jane, who welcomed me with conversation and a cup of tea) and had coffee with my host father, Patrice. (We even took a selfie!)
That is one of the greatest gifts of study abroad: The relationships you develop last long after your abroad experience. By the time my semester abroad ended, I had even built a relationship with the owner and son of a bakery just down the street from my homestay. Even if I never went in to get something, I’d always get an enthusiastic “Bonjour, monsieur!” from them. I continue to stay in touch with friends I made in my program as well. (More than just Facebook; we’ll chat over the phone, even meet up here stateside!) In June, I got to reunite with my friend Kirstie in Chicago.
If you’re thinking about studying abroad, it’s never too early to look into the process. Give careful consideration to where you’d want to study and live. Paris was perfect for me due to my academic and personal interests. Not all programs are created equal, too, so make sure you do your research on what they offer. I benefited from a program that offered great classes and chances to explore the great cultural heritage of Paris. A strong program will offer you the chance to take great classes that count towards your degree, and the opportunities to be a traveler, not just a tourist.
This September will be the 5th anniversary of my semester abroad (September 9th, to be exact!) Study abroad allows you to find your city, whether that’s your host city or one you encounter during your travels. What will your city be?