My year in Paris was the best thing I’ve ever done for my education
C’est la belle freaking vie
While my dad was driving me to the airport, he commented “I really admire the courage you’re presenting – you don’t really know what’s on the other side of that flight. What you’re doing is a pretty brave thing.”
Of course all I could think in response to that was, “Uh oh.” With that small sinking feeling, I realized I really didn’t know – I couldn’t know – what I was going to meet- or whom I was going to meet. I had secured everything with my host family (and government) from my food allergies to my VISA for the upcoming year; I hadn’t considered it all falling through.
So for the following ten minutes, I sank into a reflective daze on why exactly I was taking this Parisian plunge at 19 years old, starkly in the middle of my college career. I thought about how stuck and stagnant I was feeling in my classes – how every assignment felt like a dead-end. I thought about the increasingly poor decisions I was making in response to my ever-growing restlessness from living within a small college town. I thought about the boy who meant so much to me – and then how our heartache and drama had sadly become too much. I accepted then that the only absolute security I felt in my leaving for France was my strong intuition that I was following what felt right for my life in the moment. I knew I needed to take a break from school to let my soul explore a little; I knew I needed to get to know myself far away from everything and everyone I had ever known. So I got on the plane.
Finally, some relief
Ten hours after my dad’s comment, I was standing alone in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France, anticipating my (host) dad’s arrival and the last of my journey to the house in which I would live for the following year. When my eyes finally rested on my host dad’s smiling, welcoming face, I knew that taking a year abroad to be an au pair would be one of the most illuminating highlights of my entire life. The intoxicating spark of finally feeling free was ignited and the blaze that followed began to melt all of the toxic weight that I had grown used to carrying.
Impact on perception
And so…. I’m back, and my unbelievably wonderful time in Paris feels next to impossible to describe to those who eagerly ask. Now that I’m almost finished with my first semester post-France at Florida State, I can, however, feel, see, and define how it has changed me as a person and student 180 degrees for the better.
Most striking perhaps is my changed relationship with academia – I’ve realized that getting an education is more than just begrudgingly moving toward having a diploma in your hand, and it’s certainly more than “getting the grade.” Passionately receiving an education now means broadening both my inner and external worlds: it’s the ability to expand my perspective, my lens, through which I view creative endeavors, purpose of all kinds, and politics. I’ve now realized that an education is a four-year, life-changing conversation that just makes me… better.
It’s truly a privilege that enables me to connect with the world around me like never before. Life simply grows more colorful and exciting the more I learn, and, sadly, I didn’t understand that concept until I moved to a foreign country and lived amongst my employers while figuring myself out (sounds scary, I know- it was).
Waking up with greasy hair, no makeup, and bad breath and immediately walking to the kitchen to make some breakfast tea becomes much less comfortable when the people for whom you’re working are looking polished and ready for work. So, I guess what I’m saying is I realized that obtaining an education is a way to develop a confident personal sense of identity. I realized relying on superficial factors to “know” who I am was just too unreliable. Education will stay with me, makeup on or off, mood high or low, and when I’m surrounded by people who sometimes make me nervous.
A sense of control
Furthermore, for lack of a more professional phrase, I came back from France with a fire to tear this shit down, in the best way possible. I now look for the nuances in everything – if it’s a city, I want to find the hole in the wall restaurant that serves surprisingly amazing brunch, I want to find the lesser-known park where I can sit and get some reading done. I want to tear apart Tallahassee so that I’m not just visiting the same three clubs and restaurants over, and over, and over again. Living abroad has pushed me out of my complicity.
When nothing made sense because I literally could not understand the French language at the time, it forced me into the constant mindset of “create it if you want it” and “find it if you want it.” Henceforth, if I want to do, create, or discover something and it feels impossible, I now have the confidence in myself to accomplish any goal my heart desires. Before I left, living in France never seemed possible, as if it would always stay in its hazy dream-form within the confines of my head. But through my successful move and subsequent return, I now feel a deep sense of control to create my life how I want it. Not to mention that I got myself lost in the nighttime Parisian streets once (or twice) with no cell-service and returned back home safely makes me feel pretty damn confident.
Lessons earned abroad
The French are a bunch of weirdos in the most inspiring way. It was in Paris where I realized that it’s not just okay to be a unique person – it’s celebrated. When we’re younger all we want to do is fit in, and then at some point, all we want is to stand out. In France, I felt I finally digested the idea that it’s okay to be a little bizarre, to have unique interests, to not want to roll with the norm. Instead of being intimidated by my uniqueness, I’ve become invigorated by it. Paris’s laid back yet chic and encouraging atmosphere enabled me to learn how I can develop my persona on my own terms rather than society's.
Earning this experience was not easy; I saved my money to purchase my flight, and I found a Parisian job that supplied my rent, my food, and the numerous other expenses. While I was there, I scoped out an internship that professionally pushed me more than ever before. However, I am acutely aware that not everyone can "jump ship" and take off to another country for any number of circumstances life creates. For my ability to have done so, I am grateful. And thus, I know that my lessons may seem futile to some (or most), but I believe that it’s important to share them for the struggling college sophomore who thinks they won’t graduate any time soon. Or for the person who feels like they can’t seem to stop fucking everything up, all the time.
Hey, person, if I can do it, you can do it. Be courageous and stay weird – c’est la belle freaking vie.