Exploring the Luxembourg Gardens, just a short walk from my university in Paris
I have been to Paris twice before: once when I was a sophomore in high school and once just before I started college. So while I knew what to expect from a tourist’s perspective, I was completely clueless about what it would be like to call the city my home.
Paris has so many stereotypes: its citizens, the food, the sights. Processing all of this at first can be a little overwhelming. As I prepared to depart, I had to remind myself that Paris is a living, working city, that would be far less tourist-y than my previous visits, both of which occurred during peak tourist season.
Finally, after months of waiting, I was on my way. I chose to participate in a three day stopover in London, which was a great way to explore an amazing city and meet some of the other students in my program.
When we arrived at the Gare du Nord train station, it was loud, crowded, hectic, and a somewhat stressful scene of taxis and people. But even with the initial chaos, I was immediately in love with the city. It felt so surreal to finally be in the place that I had been imagining and dreaming about for months. There was a short adjustment period which involved meeting my host family, finding my way around my neighborhood, and learning how to use the metro system, but really I could not feel more at home here.
Paris is so full of life, even in the dead of winter. The city is constantly buzzing with people, and it has been incredible to explore the sights and really soak in the atmosphere of the city. It is hard to believe that I am finally here and I am lucky enough to call this place home for a few months. I feel like I have to pinch myself every day to make sure this is really happening!
Overall, I have not had too difficult of a time adjusting into life here. For me, the biggest challenge is just to “fit in” and give the appearance of being just another Parisian. This is often easier said than done, especially when I am traveling with my American friends in a large group. The French typically are more quiet than Americans, so volume has been an occasional issue. This is not to say that the French cannot be loud, just that in general when they speak, they stand closer together and speak in lower tones. However, I find that when I travel, shop, commute, or even explore the city by myself or with a smaller group, I am able to blend right in.
Despite the common stereotype that the French are anti-tourist or anti-American, I have found almost everyone that I have encountered to be very friendly and willing to work with me if I have a question or issue, as long as I at least make an attempt to speak their language. Even a simple bonjour or merci typically gets you much better treatment than just immediately asking for English.
Overall, my expectations for what the “real Paris” would be like have been met and far surpassed. I am in love with everything from the food, to the people, to the atmosphere of the city itself. There have been some challenges, like learning the metro system or figuring out how to do my laundry, but without these challenges my experience here would not be complete. The “real Paris” that I live in has both challenges and amazing adventures, and I am loving every minute of it!