February 21, 2013
This morning I went for a run in the Jardin de Tuileries and around the Musée du Louvre. After four semesters of running in the Glen, it is still hard for me to believe that I can get up in the morning and go run in the shadow of arguably the most impressive art museum in the world. And if that was not enough, on my way back home, I ran past the Assemblée Nationale, the start of the Champs-Élysées, the Hôtel des Invalides and the monument of all Parisian monuments, the Tour Eiffel. Which, I might I add, I can see from my bedroom window. I have been in Paris for just over five months and there are days when I still have to stop and remind myself that, yes, I am indeed living in Paris. Even if right now, it is a very cold and wet Paris, it is my city à moi for the year.
Deciding to go abroad for the whole year was not easy for me. I had originally planned to go for just the first semester for a whole host of reasons. I was worried about finishing requirements for my major. I did not think I would get enough out of being abroad for a second semester. Mostly, I just could not imagine being away from Hamilton for that long. If I spent the year abroad, that would mean that at the end of my sophomore year, I would only have two semesters left on campus. But I decided to go for it. I was back at Hamilton in August leading an OA trip, and I left for France directly from there. One of the weirdest things of this whole experience was still in Clinton, driving away towards I-90 and realizing that the next time I would be on the Hill, I would be a senior. Being away for a year, while it is an amazing experience, does make my time at Hamilton feel très petit.
Now that I am here, though, I do not regret staying for the spring semester. Even after five months of speaking (mostly) French, I feel like I am still learning, still getting better. I could have left in December with enough French to feel good about myself, but I expect that the extra five months in the spring will make an enormous difference. I took a cooking class with two friends from the program last semester from a French woman who married an American and used to live in the United States. She told us that she firmly believes you need a solid six months in a foreign country to learn the language. After five months of being here, I have to agree with her. I take all my classes in French, speak French with my friends and live with a French family; on a daily basis, I definitely speak more French than English. I can understand everything and make myself understood about 90 percent of the time. The only thing that will get me to one 100 percent and real, complete fluency is more time in Paris. It is certainly not an option for everyone, but if learning a language is part of the reason you want to go abroad, I would definitely recommend going for a year.
The second great thing about being in Paris for a year is, well, being in Paris for a year. I am getting to know this city like I know Hamilton or my hometown. It is a crazy experience, being in a city, because both Hamilton and my hometown are as rural as rural can be. But I am so glad I chose to stay and become a vraie parisienne. I slacked off a bit last semester and did not get to see as much of the city as I could have, but once all my first-semester friends left, I realized that I really needed to take advantage of my second semester. You see the phrase “vous en profitez!” on ads all over Paris, and that is exactly what I am doing here. I have the chance to make up for everything I missed last semester, which (so far) includes Euro Disney, a real French manifestation and baguettes on baguettes on baguettes (I hardly missed out on that last one in the Fall, but why stop now?).
What is by far the weirdest, strangest, simply craziest thing about being in Paris, especially for a year, is how normal it has become to me. I still stop and remind myself that yes, this is real, but it happens far less frequently as the months go on. Being here for a year has given me the chance to develop a routine. I have my quartier, my classes, my regular day. I walk home from work on weeknights and in one glance I see the dome of Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower, both lit up against the Paris night sky. In my art history class last semester we would discuss les Impressionnistes in a classroom on Monday; on Wednesdays, we would go to the Musée d’Orsay and see, right there in front of us, original works by Monet, Renoir and the like. And when I have a free moment, I have all the benefits of a major international city just a métro ride away. Whether it is an exhibition at the Louvre, a spéctacle at the Opéra Garnier, a morning at my neighborhood open-air marché, or a meal at my favorite restaurant: Breakfast in America.