France

When in France: Some Non-Solicited Advice from a Student in Paris

Russell Willoughby is a student at University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa and an ISA Featured Blogger. Russell is currently studying abroad with ISA in Paris, France.

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I think it’s only fitting that I begin this post with both an apology and a justification. For the former: In my nearly four months in THE city of artistic and literary inspiration I have written a grand total of…one blog post. There’s really no good excuse for this (except I’m running on Parisian time?), so instead of mounting a lengthy defense, I’ll use this space to reflect on why and how exactly time gets away from you while abroad and offer some perspective on how to keep up with it as we head into the next semester…

1.       After about a week abroad, you will swear that you’ve entered a time-space continuum.

I’m positive it’s some French voodoo, but as I’m entering my fourth month in Paris, I feel both as if I left home just yesterday and that I’ve been here my whole life. It’s illogical and borders on the cliché, but each day here is so full and different that you lose a sense of cohesiveness. You’ll find yourself having internal arguments about which Friday afternoon it was that you got caught between the closing metro doors or when, exactly, you almost perfectly ordered your plat from that fancy restaurant. And by contrast, there will be several moments where you have to ask yourself: what did I even do with myself this week? And it’s only when you do a mental rundown that you realize you made it to all your classes on time, in addition to hauling your lazy-self to the Uexpress across the street, AS WELL AS taking the wrong metro line only ONCE…you go you big city-slicker, you.

2.       So…WRITE THINGS DOWN.

Now I’m not saying that we all flee to Paris with our silly wanna-be-writers’ heads in the clouds, but I promise you won’t regret keeping a quasi-journal of what you did each day abroad, even if it’s the most banal of lists. I wish I had started this sooner and kept up with it more consistently. Over Christmas break, when I had no classes or work to dictate my daily schedule, I began jotting down rough timelines of how I spent my hours, which would eventually take shape into how I spent my days which would finally look a little bit like a record of a young American’s life in Paris. The ability to reference a certain day and see scrawled in the margins “Café with Alex 14h-16h” (oh yes, get used to military time) or “Jardin du Luxembourg” will instantly flood you with sensory memories of the smells, sights and noises of ta journée.

3.       And finally: Embrace the fishbowl effect.

It’s always somewhat of a tricky subject to dole out advice regarding how and how often you should keep in touch with friends back home. I’m a proponent of keeping it natural—if you make a Skype date, honor it, but both parties should hopefully realize that the other has a life that is different in both activities and time zones. Which is a GOOD thing. As a junior, I am increasingly aware that the comfortable college-town cloisters of my life in Alabama are temporary, and that one day—one day soon—I will have to leave my university and my friends, this time for real. Study abroad has been the best preparation for that. You realize quicker and more deeply than you expected that you are capable of forging a life elsewhere, and on a different continent no less! You may not have your familiar cafeteria or the comforts of your favorite fast food restaurant, but you will develop new routines with new friends and new haunts. You will have “your” bar and “your” quartier. Don’t think of this time as a reprieve from your real life—this is your real life. You might not be able to verbalize the daily drama of trying to open a French bank account or the transformative experience of sustaining a whole conversation about French politics—in French!—to your friends back home, but it still matters just as much. You’ll have all of these bizarre triumphs and travails that most often only you will be able to fully appreciate, and that’s the best part.

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