“If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet”
I’ve always thought of myself as a traveller, someone of culture, the dandy about town as it were. I revel in talking about the grand cultural cities of Europe with my unassuming peers. “Is that picture on one of the bridges in Venice on your Instagram? I prefer the Ponte Vecchio in Florence myself… mm yes I do like Vienna, although I find Berlin to be much more youthful and vibrant… Madrid you say? Barcelona has a much more cosmopolitan feel to it…” So of course, when I was given the opportunity to study in Paris as part of my year abroad, I didn’t just jump at the chance, I practically leaped out of my seat and sprinted the 120 miles to St Pancras International, bound for the Eurostar to take me to the wondrous Gare du Nord. I was so ready to go, hell I was excited even, shock, and despite having to lug 5 rather large suitcases, 2 duffel bags and a handbag across the English Channel, (now I know why they call it luggage) I was finally living the dream. “Oh no, this isn’t my first time in Paris, I’ve been coming every year since I was 15, I know it like the back of my hand…” I know, I know, I can hear you laughing already. 1 month later I would deliver this line with unprecedented arrogance to my newfound American friends before blindly leading them all towards Marne La Vallée on the metro, the end of the line in the wrong direction and, unbeknownst to me, the stop for Disneyland Paris. “Don’t worry, mes amis from across the pond, I know where we’re going..” This coming from the girl who drove around for an hour in her hometown looking for the petrol station, (and as small as Lincoln is, I could have driven halfway to Manchester in that time.)
Anyway, this combination of getting lost as well as being able to think I spoke French like a native all led to me realising just how unprepared I was for my year abroad. Now, you should know I consider myself fairly organised, and I’m not very good at spontaneity, so I wanted to plan my year abroad down to the very last weekend. I’ll be the first to admit that I was grossly unrehearsed for the cultural disorientation. I burst into tears upon arrival in my accommodation. I don’t mean that I ‘threw open one of the windows of my balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower letting my hair whip my face and cry into the wind’ style tears, à la Carrie Bradshaw. Oh no, these were real gulping sobs, snotty tissues, and an ugly, overwhelming sense of how pathetically I was behaving. I had been in Paris, the city of my dreams, la cité éternelle, the legendary capital, for less than a week, and here I was bawling like a baby just because I had been left alone to get on with things. I didn’t like myself at that moment in time. I felt guilty for not enjoying myself more, for not being 100% grateful to be in this great city. I had a lot more going for me than most people I knew, “most people would kill to be in your position” I could hear my Nana’s voice echoing. So why was I so upset? I really didn’t know, and I probably couldn’t tell you the answer today either, but what I have learned since then, (and will continue to turn over in my mind), is that a year abroad isn’t going to be everything you expect, and it isn’t going to be anything you expect. My first night in the city of lights was spent watching Netflix with an M&S ready meal, (yes way they have good old Marks and Sparks over there).
The next day I resigned myself to venture out and explore the city guilt-free. I made my way to the Île de la Cité, whereupon I stumbled across the cutest most Francophone cafe I will ever have the good fortune to find. This infamous (unbeknown to me) darling little ‘Au Vieux Paris’ fulfilled all my boudoir expectations and more, but I would recommend booking in advance as it is trés popular with both locals and tourists and alike. I ordered from the dessert menu the Souvenirs d’Enfance, (pain perdu with vanilla ice cream, 10 euros), and let’s just say it was so fantastique that I rolled out the door. It may have been the fresh air, or it may have been the mounds of sweetened bread, who can tell, but I felt instantly better, not to mention more Parisian. All I’m trying to say is that regardless of how long I had been dreaming about Paris, and regardless of how many times you’ll be told that your year abroad will be a life changing experience, doing something new and completely different will always have its ups and downs, and nothing can really prepare you for that. So, my advice would be to go into it expecting to feel unprepared, and that’s the best preparation you can have. (It also helps if you can speak the language, but more on that disaster, I mean, adventure, another time!)