Week 4: Final Projects and Homesickness

When you are studying abroad, especially for a short time, make sure that you have seen and done everything that you’ve wanted by the time the final week rolls around. I have spent most of this past week working on my final project and trying to assess what I can take home and what I have to leave behind. Thankfully, I have had nothing that I have needed to do around Paris throughout these past few days.


The final project has been interesting to say the least. We were asked to put together four entries each into a larger “Surrealist’s Guide to Paris.” On top of it all, we are not being given any concrete instructions on how to create our entries, only that they must represent the Surrealist’s attitude and grant some sort of instructions on how to find surrealist objects or areas around Paris. It is a difficult project, and designed to push our creativity and understanding of the subject. I like it, but I’m also a little worried about meeting the necessary criteria.


I’m feeling a slight ache for home that has been all but silent up until this point. I find myself thinking of my family, my friends, and yes, my cat on a near-constant basis. I am also eager to begin my studies for the GRE this fall as well as try out a few new classes that are required for my degree. While I am happy to have been in Paris, the needs and comforts of home have begun to tug at me a bit.


Leaving a foreign place that you have wanted to see for years can come with bittersweet emotions, and no matter how reluctant or eager you are, no feeling toward it is incorrect or misplaced. As long as you can wrap things up nicely and have enough of an experience to take back with you, I’d say you are entirely entitled to however you wish to feel about the return journey. I have seen both hesitance and enthusiasm about leaving from my classmates, and each person has very good reasons for their attitudes.


I have made friends. I have hugged those who have left ahead of me and will continue to reminisce a little with those who are still here. Paris has made many of us who are now staring at our plane ticket (or train, for those whose trips aren’t over yet) and smile a little sadly. The culture has sunken in and we are now thinking about home and trying to readjust our brains to the American mindset. It’s a little harder than you might think, after a month of complete submersion in another country.


Overall, I think I’ve grown tremendously on a personal level, and I am not sure that many people will directly notice the difference on the outside. I find myself looking at people and languages in a way I hadn’t considered before. I now know exactly what it’s like to be unable to speak or navigate without having to guess at words I don’t know. I understand how hard it is to ask for help, order food, or simply buy something without understanding the language.


But I also know that I can rely on myself in these situations. When calm, aware, and determined, I can get to or find anything I need, and no one needs to hold my hand along the way. With this has come a huge gust of confidence and boldness that I did not have upon my departure from Seattle.


I encourage all students to study abroad as soon as they are able. And if they do not feel they are able, there are ways to make it happen. I was a student who shrugged off study abroad for a long time because I believed I would never be able to do it for financial reasons. But I found the resources, and now it is probably the most meaningful part of my experience at UW thus far. The educational opportunity was excellent, and I don’t think I’ll ever regret this decision.


Thank you so much for reading about my stay in Paris and hopefully I’ve prompted you to at least explore your opportunities. Don’t let your academic journey go by without doing part of it in another country.



Week 3: Food, Scotland, and Learning a Little Bit About Me

The past few weeks have been as much of an exploration of the city and the culture, as they have been of the food. I am not use to the fact that so many things are so natural, and not altogether beyond the standard fare at home. Yes, the French love their cheese, and indeed baguettes can be found on nearly every street corner. And, while some dishes may have seemed to fit a somewhat American standard—steak and fries, roasted chicken plates, salads galore—there were a few that stood out for me and I would recommend these to any person traveling to France:


Escargot is a necessity. Did I try it? Yes. Did I like it? Nope, not one bit. So why I am suggesting it? There were many people in my group who enjoyed it tremendously, and it can be served with a variety of seasonings and sauces. For me, it was an issue of aftertaste and texture, but if you can get past that and the fact that it was once a little slimy snail, you might be surprised. Plus, I think having tried it is far more important than having enjoyed it or not.


Do not—I repeat—do NOT leave France without trying duck. The duck steaks and confit dishes I had were literally gasp-worthy. Duck is far different than chicken or any other poultry dish that one might expect to compare it to, so give it a shot. You can even order it rare to well-done just like a steak, and without the worry of becoming sick from it. I’d rank it as the best thing I tried in France overall.


My last recommendation is for the more adventurous folk. Not everyone will want to go near this one. If you go to France, you should try steak tartare. What is it? It just so happens to be completely raw hamburger meat, served cold, in a variety of seasonings and sauces. I loved it, but I’m also a rare meat lover. This was completely uncooked and complemented by a salad, fries, or rye toast. Each time was better than the last and you can find it on most menus around Paris.


Outside of this, my journeys have been much the same. Our professor has taken us to see a few very old Cathedrals, flea markets loved by Surrealists, and a few art museums. I have to admit that these quaint little wanderings away from the main attractions are really very pleasant and give me more time to absorb the history. When something is well-known, and continuously visited, it loses a bit of its magic. Lately, I have preferred my little journeys outside of Paris, as I am becoming desensitized to the architecture, statues, and constant pestering by vendors. I am glad that a few of our class trips allow us to see the little villages with cobblestone streets, old windmills, and dainty gardens. France’s countryside is definitely more slow-paced and relaxed.


This brings me to my final report for this entry. A couple weekends ago, I made a bold decision to purchase an airline ticket that would allow me to venture out of Paris and the country by myself, and see a particular destination that has been on my mind for years: Scotland. I set foot on the plane this past weekend and I have never been happier about any decision I have made. Though it was only two days, the simple fact that I said, “Yes, I want to do this” and “No, I don’t need anyone else to do it with me” made it one of the most impactful moments of my life.


Though I would love to write more, I will keep to the highlights.


You tend to learn a lot about yourself when you force yourself into a situation where you are your only resource. I had to get off my plane in the middle of the night in Edinburgh, find a map, navigate a tricky roundtrip bus schedule for the weekend, learn where my stop was, and travel the city on foot for two days. Is it easy? Not if you don’t have an open mind and a ton of patience. The whole weekend was bitter cold and I had nothing but a tourist map and an umbrella for company. So I took off at 7 a.m. each morning and began just walking, walking, walking. Throughout the day, I managed to find a castle, a city park with part of the highlands still intact, a mile-long street of tourist shops, national monuments, war museums, cathedrals, ancient cemeteries, old plague alleys, armories, and more. One night, I came home at 1 a.m. after a ghost tour of the city’s underground vaults. I’ve never felt so independent and entirely on my own schedule.


A little note on the food: Scotland has wonderful haggis, which is basically ground sheep’s lung, stomach, liver, intestine, and heart in case you were wondering. If you can get past the thought of that, it’s very good.


I went back to Paris having learned a little bit about me that I didn’t know. I know that I am my own best resource, and that I am a completely capable of doing anything I want on my own. I now feel much more self-reliant, less hesitant in general, and far more open to jumping into new projects or experiences. I think every person should make an effort to travel alone at some point in their life, safely of course, and if only for a short while. I am very happy that my study abroad trip to Paris granted me a pathway to do something entirely unplanned, but entirely meaningful to my personal growth.


Next week is my final week of studying abroad, and truthfully, I do miss home. I look forward to reporting on any other tidbits I have for you. Thanks for reading!

Week 2: It’s Okay to Be a Tourist

The second week of my journey through Paris has been filled with extreme sightseeing. Tourism could definitely be a sport. Each day I have walked between 4 and 7 miles, in a combination of wanderings with our professor and the absolute need to see anything and everything that Paris has to offer. Each time I am faced with the people of Paris, I find myself fighting the urge to whip out my camera and point it at some monument or building. I am striving to appear as normal and “French” as possible. But one thing I have learned while wandering through the Louvre, climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower, or simply meandering along the Seine is: It’s okay to be a Tourist.


My camera is nearly an extension of my right hand, and like the hand, it is one of the ways in which I experience and document the world around me. It’s how I keep memories intact, and a way of providing souvenirs that often go beyond the thousands of aluminum Eiffel Towers you are offered by vendors on a daily basis. So I have learned to shrug off the occasional glances and snap the photo anyway. As of right now, I am at about 900 and quietly wondering if I may be more gung-ho about it than I think I am.


This week has been a busy one. I managed to wander into war museums, visited Napoleon’s tomb, ascended the Eiffel Tower by stairs, climbed into the bell towers at Notre Dame, stood under the Arc D’ Triomphe, and much more. Every known tourist attraction is complemented by curious little side streets, endless window shopping, and café after café filled with warm bread and super tiny cups of coffee. While I am joining the hundreds and thousands of tourists that flock these monuments on a daily basis during a Parisian summer, I am also coming to the realization that I know very little about them in comparison to the French, who are rather particular and intimate with their famous structures. There’s history here and—especially after managing a 4-hour walk through part of the enormous Louvre—I am beginning to understand that that is something I will only fully understand through a more prolonged exposure to the culture. Unfortunately, my time here is limited and I have more specific studies to which I need to direct my attention.


One of the things that our course is requiring us to do is to look outside the “purpose” of objects and art and to try to understand their artistic nature solely from the fact of their existence. It’s a hard one for sure, especially when Marcel Duchamp decidedly signed a urinal, called it “Fountain,” and put it on display; yes, it’s a little bit much to grasp at times. But despite the awkward difficulty that this subject sometimes presents, we are keeping in mind the Surrealist movement as a dismantling of concepts, rather than a true attempt at “creating art.” This topic is also granting us the opportunity to look at architecture and modern art with a more critical eye. I have to admit, it’s coloring my experiences in Paris in a unique way.


Overall, I am lucky to be absorbing the city in a very Surrealist fashion, while receiving enough downtime to be a tourist. Having both sides of the coin is more valuable than either one or the other.


On the agenda for next week: Flea markets, escargot (maybe), cathedrals, and a weekend excursion to Scotland. I look forward to telling you about it! Cheers!