It has now been about two months since I touched down in Paris and began my semester-long study abroad adventure. During the past 65 days, I have learned many things, experienced many phenomena, and gained a lot of confidence in myself and my ability to navigate this city. As a study abroad student, there is one notion that I continue to experience: I find myself sometimes feeling like a true local, and sometimes feeling like the ultimate tourist.
I feel like a local when I take the metro. I know how to read the intricate metro map in order to get to my destination. I know to leave extra early on snowy days because the metro cars will be significantly more packed than normal. And I know that I need to refill my month-long metro pass called a “Navigo” before the first of the month in order to avoid the long lines.
I feel like a local when I sit down at a café and order a “café au lait” and draw/read/write. And I feel like a local when I wear black clothes, like most Parisians do, or attend my classes, or give someone directions.
All of these things make me feel at home here, like I know what I’m doing and I am fitting in.
I also have days where speaking the French language is extra challenging, or when I get confused in a cheese shop and don’t know how to answer a question, or I get lost, and I am reminded that I will probably never be a true local- one who is completely used to this city. But, I don’t think that is a bad thing.
I used to be embarrassed when I would stop to take a photo of a beautiful view, because I didn’t want others to peg me as a tourist. I stopped worrying about that when I realized that I never want this city to lose its sparkle for me. When you move to a country for a limited amount of time, life becomes about taking in all that you can while you are there. Knowing my time is limited in Paris has allowed me to treasure everything to the greatest extent. I love being touristy and trying all types of cuisine and going to all of the monuments and museums and taking a bunch of photos! I also love living like a local- speaking French, studying at libraries, taking the metro, drinking coffee. I love experiencing this city in both of these ways.
Being a study abroad student gives you access to a unique perspective which allows you to simultaneously fit in and observe from afar. The outsider perspective allows studying abroad to be amazing and breathtaking. The insider perspective is what allows studying abroad to sometimes feel mundane, the way home does. Both feelings should be embraced and appreciated.
As a tourist, I am amazed every day by the sight of the Eiffel Tower on my way to class. As a local, I know where the cheapest grocery stores are around my apartment. I will never be fully a visitor, nor fully an inhabitant, of Paris. I will always be somewhere on the spectrum.
I no longer suppress the urge to take lots of photos on my daily adventures in Paris. I embrace the occasional judgmental glances with the knowledge that I am fully appreciating the city that I am so lucky to be studying in.
Studying abroad allows you to be a hybrid of both tourist and local. I believe taking the best aspects from each perspective allows study abroad students to thrive in their cities. The awe and curiosity from being a tourist, along with the practical knowledge that comes with being a local sounds like a good combination to me.
For this reason, and many more, I urge students to take the opportunity to study abroad, if possible. There aren’t many other chances that we are given in our lifetime to experience other places and cultures quite like studying abroad. Fill out the forms and scholarships and experience life somewhere else. Thrive in a different city. Be a tourist. And a local.
The world awaits…discover it.