Danni Yang, who is working on a second major at Olin as a BA candidate in economics and healthcare management, wrote this post after participating in the Paris Internship Program in spring 2018. The program entails academic coursework, an intense research paper in French, and an internship abroad.
Paris is a city that I have a love-hate relationship with. You go in thinking the famed city of lights will be your Midnight in Paris, your Paris, je t’aime, a city of elegance and sophistication, wine and cheese, all set under the twinkling stars of the Tour Eiffel at night.
My first week in Paris, the weather was miserable.
A record windstorm almost prevented my plane from landing. It rained steadily throughout the week and the sun showed no signs of ever coming back out again. The gray fog that perpetually covered the Paris skyline resembled the famed gloomy London weather, but no one ever talks about how the same is true for Paris.
It would only be the harbinger for the record snowfall that would shut down the city in the following months, as public transit ground to a halt and cars were stuck outside city bounds in standstill, L.A.-worthy traffic jams.
To top this all off, my phone was stolen at the end of my first week coming out of the Père Lachaise metro station escalator. Combined with getting to wait two hours to file a police report, having to give my account of the incident completely in French and fighting with my French cell phone provider on the international calls made using my stolen SIM card, I can confidently advise that it would be a good idea to bring a back-up phone with you when you study abroad, just in case.
But things get better
People say French people are unfriendly, and I can definitely see where they’re coming from. Restaurant waiters bring hands-off service to a whole new level, leading to several ironic occasions of having to chase them down just to pay the bill.
There’s no concept of personal space on the metro and people in general have permanent RBF. The smell of cigarette smoke is omnipresent and the streets are littered with cigarette butts and dog excrement. (At this point, I am 99% sure that this is the reason why most Parisians walk with their heads down, alert for the next unwelcome morceau de merde.)
I’m not sure really at what point things began to change, when being a tourist diverged from being someone who truly lives within another culture. Perhaps it’s the first time someone asks you for directions on navigating the Paris metro during your morning commute, the first time you can successfully order at a resto or even the first time you find yourself giving a dirty look to the loud American tourists on the public transit—realizing that was you once upon a time.
I love the small, family-owned storefronts in Paris, the tiny boutiques with their carefully customized storefronts, the neighborhood boulangeries that have a daily selection of freshly baked breads and pastries. I love the rich culture of Paris; with the student discount, going to art museums and pretending to be cultured for the perfect Insta post won’t break the bank.
Beyond the big-name museums like the Georges Pompidou, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie, there are countless smaller museums you can explore in your free time. There’s always something to do or somewhere to go.
Foodies and friends
Most of all, I love the culture of food in Paris. The stereotype of French people having three-hour dinners is mostly true. While most people won’t eat for three hours in daily life, many Parisians can be found smoking and enjoying a glass of wine on the café terraces every day of the week like clockwork after work ends.
Mealtime is so important, in fact, that being on your phone while eating is considered extremely rude. Lunch and dinner are especially important times to talk and develop a sense of community with your school or work colleagues and family members. I 100 percent believe that I made some of my closest friends abroad through conversations over a meal or a coffee break.
What I guess I’m trying to say is that ultimately, Paris isn’t a city that’s easy to fall in love with (or, at least, it wasn’t easy for me). It’s a big, urban center and it’s smoke-filled, a little dirty on the edges and cold on the outside, but in the end, I can honestly say that without a doubt, I loved my study abroad experience.
I met so many new people—French, American or otherwise—whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I traveled to so many countries with rich cultures that span centuries and saw the monuments behind the history books you read throughout high school.
Most of all, I learned to love a city that was not part of an English-speaking country. It’s hard to live day-to-day and work full-time in a country that speaks a language that isn’t the one you grow up speaking. You begin to feel like your intelligence has been reduced to the limits of your foreign vocabulary. But being pushed out of my comfort zone forced me to grow beyond them and any Anglo-centric preconceptions I may have had before.
Paris is a city I had to grow to know and love, and ultimately, that’s what caused me to grow both personally and professionally. It’s true that my experience studying abroad in Paris wasn’t filled with the polished, movie-screen glitz and glamour we expect after watching all those classic Hollywood movies, but la vie en rose and the rose-tinted glasses aside? Throughout these past five months, I’ve found Paris does still have its little magical moments in the end after all.
It’s just up to you to find them.
Pictured at top: Cheese fondue with friends from the IFE program at Le Refuge des Fondus. Danni Yang at right.