Yes, contrary to popular belief, one does indeed need to do that pesky school thing when being abroad. Novel concept, I'm sure. Since the program here is directly run through my American university, there are slightly more rigorous requirements like a full four credit courseload and a language pledge. And there's also that bit where the process of registering at French universities is a circle of hell in and of itself, the points actually do matter, and this stuff shows up on my transcript.
Despite all the bureaucracy and administrative nonsense that has come to define our time here, somehow we all survived our initiation into the French higher education system and emerged relatively unscathed with a class schedule. Miracle of miracles. There's my art history course, which meets Mondays at Reid Hall for lecture and Wednesdays at the Louvre or the Musee D'Orsay to actually look at the pieces in person. During the week, there are personal visits to smaller museums and monuments to independently look at pieces. It's a truly surreal experience to read a document on the Raft of the Medusa in the original French, then to look at the actual canvas the next day. It's been two months of this and I still geek out at how incredible that is.
My two other notable classes are Phonetics and Arabic. The first is slowly helping me correct my awful pronunciation, which gets me in more trouble than it should (see: Taxi Incident (upcoming blogpost)). There's always a lot of giggling in that class and weird strangled noises that are my futile attempts at the French "r". Arabic is an incredibly meta experience of learning a foreign language in another foreign language that I love both for the sheer novelty value and my Ben Kingsley look-alike professor.
As interesting as the classes are, I think the most important part of my education here is the city of Paris itself.
Within the city there are over 2 million people and 6000 streets for me to discover. Dizzying numbers. It's a far cry from my cozy—and very sheltered—life at Hamilton, where I know every nook and cranny of the campus and where I'm well established with vast networks of friends. Here, I'm not under the illusion that I will ever know everything; I have only tenuous threads connecting me to the other kids in the program, and for the most part, I'm left to my own devices to find my place here. It's all very exciting.
The adventures that city life brings acts as an ever-growing list of reasons why I made the right choice to come here because these experiences form an education that I find more valuable than anything that I learn in my classes. Every street comes with a history lesson, conversations with a strangers are grammar lessons, overheard conversations are listening exercises, and truly, the city has become my classroom. Likewise, leaving my home country for another always brings the perspective needed to bring about necessary revelations about where I'm from. Just seeing the little ways that things are different forces me reconsider what I once believed.
There are the memories, too—so precious, almost unbelievable, and just as important as everything else in the formation of the corpus of my education.
There are the weird, verging on unbelievable, like the time that I copied the wrong address when searching for The Hope Hippo art exhibition and ended up on doorstep of a stranger's apartment by accident. And if that wasn't bad enough, the first thing out of my mouth when the maid opened the door was "Where is the hippo?" That was also the same day that I got hit on at the Paris Mosque by a middle-aged man and ended up on an hour-long tea date somehow. There's also the time my friend and I missed the last metro home successfully navigated home with a compass and a map. Or the time I went solo to a Tuesday night concert I got free tickets for and had a French hipster lean over and tell me that he thought "Bombay Show Pig was too mainstream" (said no one ever). Nearly pissed myself laughing at that one.
Then, there are the simpler moments. Running through the pouring rain with Marnie, giggling like mad, bags of pastries clutched tightly in our hands, that moment of absolute contentment when we bit into the pastries right there on the metro platform. Quiet afternoons spent in cafes just writing and letting the quiet chatter wash over me. Cooking dinner with friends when host families are gone. Sitting alone in the streets of Montmartre, soaking up the sunlight and writing. Feeling goosebumps just standing in front of the Notre Dame, overwhelmed by the power of the cathedral.
And of course, the time I was taking the six line one night and looking out the window as we were crossing the Seine. I saw the Eiffel Tower, glittering and practically aflame, and the gently glowing city flying by underneath me. And I started to grin wildly at the sight because I had realized for the first time that nothing else mattered except for that moment right then—not the impending art history midterm, not the unfinished time bomb of a visa application, not even the damned break-up—because I'm twenty and beautiful and in Paris of all places and life is so so good.