Junior Year of College
I’d always known I’d study abroad. From a young age I thought I was England-bound for a semester where I’d hobnob with landed gentry. At about the time I decided to continue studying French – and pursue a language minor – I set my sights on Paris and extended my stay to the full school year.
The plane lands in Paris and I start to cry. I don’t know a soul on the continent. What was I thinking?
My mother helps me set up my apartment and comforts me as I sob each night at dinner. Just wait until orientation at school, she says. Perhaps things will be better when I meet the other kids?
I’m late to the first day of orientation. As I rush in I’m given a list of all the other foreign students and their home Universities. I recognize a name – Angela from the University of Texas at Austin. There was a similarly-named Angela in my fifth grade GEM class in Midland, Texas. Could this be the same girl?
It is. I turn around and am face-to-face with a girl I haven’t seen since my 11th birthday party.
Small world, indeed. We band together and pick our classes so that we will never have to eat lunch alone.
Classes are three hours long with a smoke-break halfway through. On days when I’m feeling gutsy, I use that time to order a yogurt from the snack cart (but only if they have framboise).
I get called on once in my Marchés Internationaux de Capitaux class and keep repeating the number one (in French, bien sûr!) until the professor calls on someone else.
Angela and I head out to an immigration center to get our chests x-rayed. This is the only acceptable way to prove to the French that you aren’t bringing TB into their country. We aren’t, so we are allowed to stay for the year.
We have a week off for Toussaint (All Saints). Julie – a fellow Illini – and I go to Nice and Venice. In Nice, we eat lavender gelato. In Venice, we run into Adam, my good friend from high school, completely unexpectedly.
The four Americans in our Parisian school host Thanksgiving for our international (predominantly Austrian) friends. We manage to get a turkey and one of our guests brings a pumpkin pie he made from scratch. He’d taken a train out to a pumpkin patch that morning.
In December, our school erects a large Christmas tree in the main courtyard. I nick a blue ornament to take home as a keepsake. On my way home, my wallet is stolen. Karma.
I go home for Christmas and speak to the French classes at my old high school. I feel quite cultured and mature.
Back in Paris, one of our classmates is DJing at a club in the north of the city. Julie, Angela, and I take a wrong turn and end up in a less-than-pleasant area. Cops on patrol pick us up and take us home. I’ve never gotten to ride in a cop car before.
Angela and I go to Luxembourg and I fall in love with the city.
Angela and I go to London and I fall in love with the city.
My sister comes to visit for her Spring Break. She is a Senior in high school that year. Together, we go to Brittany. I’ve called ahead to make reservations at a small hotel in Dinan. I tell them my little sister is coming with me. They set up a crib in our room for her.
My dad comes to visit and we go to the D-Day beaches. I’m amazed. And overwhelmed. And so, so grateful.
I go to Spain to visit my friend Emily. We take an 8-hour bus ride from Madrid to the Mediterranean coast watching Men in Black II in Spanish on repeat. We stay in the nicest hostel I’ve ever seen – we have our own balcony! – and eat our weight in galletas.
On a trip with my friend Natalie, we discover Pop! – champagne in small bottles meant to be consumed with festive bendy straws. We drink them along the Seine after watching a ballet at L’Opera Garnier. We are so French.
Suddenly, the year is over.
(go here to start at the beginning)