It’s quite hard to imagine a city that is as easy to fall in love with as Paris. Every street corner has a musician, every boulevard is peppered with bakeries, and the very ground you walk on is historical. The river Seine weaves itself throughout the city and, today, I find myself dangling my feet at its elevated edge. Along this part of the canal-way there are wide ledges where Parisians and tourists alike come for leisure. I have my journal with me, as I often do, and feel compelled to reflect on these past few days. I sit under the shade of a willow tree and, in the warmth of a setting sun, I begin to catalog my time in France so far.
The first day I arrived in Paris I stayed in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where I met with a friend who currently studies at Sciences Po. SGL is not only in the outskirts of Paris where the views are panoramic but it also is in one of Paris’ most beautiful and historical parts. We walked through a large garden next to an even larger castle that used to house the royal family before Versailles was built. Every facet of the chateau had been restored to its original state—the gargoyles, the Gothic-inspired ornamentation of the facade, the exactly trimmed square hedges in the garden and the perfectly spread beige gravel. This attention to detail is not uncommon in the rest of Paris. I came to discover in the next few days that the entire city is just as architecturally ornate. It was Day 1 and I was already awestruck.
Orientation began the next day, and it felt like freshman year all over again—in a good way! Although I got lost going in the wrong direction on the metro, I made it to school and, fortunately, was given a tour and a map to help orient myself to the area. In my orientation group, China, South Korea, Sweden, Brazil, the US, and Singapore were all represented, which made for a melting pot of cultural diversity and ever-more interesting conversation topics. We were then funneled into a massive auditorium, which I later learned is a lecture hall. Coming from a school with an average class size of sixteen people, a classroom of that size is a bit alien to me. The director of the university, Frederic Mion, was in attendance and gave a speech about the many paths we might find ourselves traversing this next year or semester of our lives and the richness they bring to our sense of identity as citizens and academics of the world. And just as my orientation facilitated for me at University of Richmond, I felt like I had found a new home at Sciences Po.
It’s the weekend now, and I’ve moved into my housing arrangement for the semester. I’m living with a lovely host family in Montmartre, and they are thankfully patient with my limited French. I chose to live with a host family because I wanted an immersion experience. It also helps curb the homesickness to be in a home with a mom who cooks wonderful French food. They live right next to the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur or the Sacred Heart Church as us Anglophones know it. The church is constructed of limestone, which is said to have an effervescent glow after it rains. Needless to say, this area is beautiful, the church down the road is ethereal, and I’m pretty ecstatic about spending the next four months with a wonderful family.
I still have a few days of orientation left, so my next update will include some more tidbits about acclimating to French life as I’m introduced to all its Parisian nooks and crannies.