By Emily Archer
This weekend, I had one of those magical trips that all study abroad students brag about when they get back home (and on their blogs.) I headed over to Paris, France this weekend with a group of friends to take in Parisian culture and eat lots of crossaints and crepes. It was glamorous – the City of Love, beautiful rain or shine, night or day.
I went up the Eiffel Tower, walked through and up the giant Notre Dame cathedral and couldn't help but sing The Hunchback of Notre Dame songs in my head and point out which tower Quasimodo climbed while belting "OUT THEEEEERE!" And the gargoyle that broke and sent Frollo to his lava death.
Paris is beautiful even when gloomy.
It was strange being in a country where I couldn't understand what anyone was saying, and I couldn't communicate very well. I love French. I love all languages, but Spanish and French hold special places in my heart. French feels familiar to me, even though my vocabulary consists of maybe ten words, just because I grew up listening to it, even if it was only occasionally.
But since I've been learning and speaking Spanish for the past couple months, everyone in my group kept switching up our words, saying "Gracias" instead of "Merci" and "Sí" instead of "Oui". We got plenty of funny looks. The fact that we had Spanish ingrained into our brains was a confidence booster for me, even if it made trying to communicate in French a little bit harder. I mean, if I wasn't blubbering in Spanish while trying to speak English or French at this point in my semester abroad, I probably haven't been using my Spanish too much, right? We got around just fine, even without anyone speaking any kind of French (although I was the designated French-speaker... that says a lot about our level of French!)
It was also a good change of weather. Cold, but refreshing. I've been waiting for fall since October started, but unfortunately fall in Sevilla didn't really start until last week, and even then it was pretty lame. There were orange trees in Paris, you could see your breath in the morning and at night, and it just smelled like fall. Perfect weather for heading into a cafe and grabbing some hot chocolate. And crepes. So many crepes.
The best crepe I had, though, was the late night street vendor crepe. Something about watching them make it in front of you, slathering on Nutella, or butter and sugar, folding it up in half, then in a triangle, so carefully like he was tucking in the Nutella for a good night’s sleep. Best way to eat it. Then you take a bite out of the piping hot crepe, a thin, gooey pancake with melted Nutella oozing out the bite you just took. SO. GOOD. I might just move to France so I can learn how to make crepes and then make a living as a crepe street vendor. What a life.
It was a wonderful weekend spent with some great friends. It was crazy to think that only 2.5 months ago, these people were strangers to me. It's hard to think about where I was in general 2.5 months ago. I remember crying on my way out the door of my home in Iowa, a pit in my stomach about how the next 4 months abroad would be. I was absolutely terrified. I never would have thought that 2.5 months in I would be in Paris, casually eating crepes and drinking some delicious hot chocolate and walking down Champs-Élysées.
Me in front of the Arc du Triomphe
During my walk to class this morning I really took in the sights around me, looking back and remembering the time all of it was so strange and new. It was a huge accomplishment if I made it to class without getting lost. Now I try to get lost on purpose (not on my way to class though) so I can find the unfamiliar parts of town. When is the point in time where the strange and different becomes familiar, becomes home? Not only has my perspective changed, but I also feel different. In a very subtle way, like how your hair gets longer but you can't tell until you see pictures of you with short hair (my hair is in desperate need of a cut.)
I feel more confident, stronger, I have more gumption. I can't say I have no fear, because I have plenty of that to go around. But I think the second I stepped into the car going towards the airport, the moment I left everything behind in Iowa to head to Spain, I learned how to push my limits. Instead of asking myself "Why?" now I ask myself, "Why not?" It's hard to explain without sounding cheesy, or like one of those guest speakers at a team building conference.
As the school semester starts wrapping up, final projects start and everyone's thoughts are centered on the prospect of heading home in December, it really gets to feel a little sentimental about where I came from at the beginning of this whole ordeal. I've still got four weeks left of classes, and then a whole lot of traveling until January. A long way until home, but I'm not worried about it. These past 2.5 months zoomed by, and I know this next month and a half will too, so I'm going to soak it all in before I head back to what used to be my normal life.
I just signed up for classes this past week and it's really hard for me to imagine being back at school. My walk to class will be completely different, tiny streets and cobblestone sidewalks to huge paved sidewalks and two-way streets. Also, taking a bus instead of walking all the way to class. Driving (oh man, I miss driving) to get around everywhere. Now my old normal will be the different life, the life I need to readjust to. I have a feeling I'll welcome my bed at home with open arms (or arms closed around my cat in a giant squeezy hug), but it's hard for me to think about the time I'll wake up and I won't be in Sevilla. A little scary, almost. But I've been through it all before, so at this point I am an expert at adapting.
Time to get back to final projects and papers. Four weeks is definitely not enough time.
Emily Archer is a junior majoring in Journalism with a minor in Spanish at the University of Iowa. She is currently studying abroad on the CIEE Seville Communications, New Media and Journalism Program in Seville, Spain.
Take a look at Emily's personal travel blog here.