My year abroad in Paris has drawn to an end, and I am currently reminiscing on my experience back in London. Writing a reflection on what has undoubtedly been the richest, most fulfilling and best year of my life is definitely going to be tricky, though I will try to sum it all up as best I can. Living abroad definitely teaches you so many things that you can never see for yourself when playing it safe in your native environment with its familiarity and customs. Being transported back to another world with a different language, culture and way of life which I used to find as the norm is slightly odd and disconcerting at the moment, however it is just a question of re-adapting.
Whilst I have been saying farewells for over two months, it is quite different when you suddenly find that you’re the one who is leaving. Needless to say, my last week was a flurry of different emotions. Whilst not wanting to leave, I knew deep down that the time had come and that I must remember that I have a life across the Channel too, and most importantly a degree to finish. Leaving a city where I have had many fond memories and have met amazing people was extremely hard, but I know one day I’ll be back. I also know that I have been lucky enough to have made friends not just for the Erasmus year, but for life. I am sure I will see many of them again – be it in London, Paris, or elsewhere in Europe.
This year has taught me so much, and I now feel (pretty) ready to tackle final year and eventually enter the real world. I have lived in another country for a year and survived – it may not have been a complete walk in the park (several bust ups with French admin spring to mind), but every moment, whether good or bad, has provided me with a solid set of life lessons. I may have lived away from home since the age of eighteen, yet this year brought a new set of challenges. At uni I have always had housemates to watch my back and the Warwick bubble with its easy network of friends, however this year I was dropped into a foreign city living alone where I pretty much knew nobody. Whilst being in a student environment was a big help for meeting people, French uni has nowhere near the same British student social scene – if you want friends, you have to take the plunge and turn up to events alone knowing nobody to begin with. The whole ‘anonymous’ student lifestyle that comes especially with studying in a capital may have been difficult for me to comprehend at first, yet it also taught me that I still had so much confidence and independence to gain.
Looking back, I have no regrets and did everything I hoped to achieve and so much more. Whilst I will never be a native speaker, French no longer feels like a foreign language to me, but just another means of expression. It may be a tough language to master, yet I fell under its charm in my teens and have been spurred on by its beautiful complexity ever since. I love speaking, reading and even writing in French, and I am going to try my best not to lose too much of all I have learnt this year. Speaking and operating non-stop in French is something I am already sorely missing.
Oh, and of course I will miss the food, especially the bakeries on every corner tempting me in with their wafting smells of freshly baked bread. Having my vegetarianism understood and not being offered chicken will make a nice change though.
As far as sights go I have well and truly conquered Paris, yet a city is never completely discovered in a year – it will always have new places to explore and things to discover when I am to return. Paris and I have a love affair now, I know that I will one day be back. Whether for a romantic reunion or in it for the long haul – I am yet to know. Other than the capital, I have discovered various corners of France and fallen for French culture and savoir-vivre. And that’s without mentioning several adventures around Europe. With no stretch of water in the way, Europe is there for the taking. Erasmus is amazing – all I can say to British students is learn a language.
Whilst I will experience the infamous ‘post-Erasmus blues’ in the next few weeks and probably even more so when stuck sitting on the 4th floor of the library, I can always look back and say that I had a hell of a year.
Being Parisian is not about having been born in Paris, or possessing a family tree rooted for centuries in the capital – it’s a mind-set, a sense of belonging, and most importantly a sentiment of both love and hate for the city. Paris is beautiful, but nowhere is perfect. Just like everywhere else, it has its irritabilities and is far from the flawless city we see portrayed in blockbusters. Paris has taught me a lot and holds many fond memories, and it is essentially these elements that make the city an important place for me. The French capital has become my second city, and, whilst London will always be my hometown, Paris has become my playground.
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