It has been a couple months now since I found out that I was going to be spending the next year studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and the news is barely sinking in. I feel as if I have gone through most stages of excitement; first the simple euphoria at finding out the news, then the frenzied worry and stress as I went through the exhausting process of finding accommodation and finally, a more practical excitement as I began to make administrative preparations.
For many of my peers the decision to do a year abroad seemed like a difficult one and I’m not denying it is. Even as I tell my family and friends that I will be living in Paris next year and they ask the inevitable question, ‘What will you be doing in Paris?’ I find myself going ‘Aarrgh’ because that proves to be a surprisingly difficult question.
As a student of English literature and Creative Writing, a year in Paris is more of a year for new experiences, learning the language and trying ‘escargots’ instead of a year focused on exams and grades. No, the year does not count towards my final degree and yes, it does add an extra year onto my three year course. But hey, as a former student from the Erasmus program said, ‘When will there ever be a time in your life when you get paid to live in Paris?’ – thanks to the Erasmus programme that is exactly what I hope to do, seize this opportunity even though it was awful saying goodbye to friends that will graduate a year early.
As the start date at the Sorbonne looms closer I enter my final phase of excitement; nervous anticipation for the fresh start that Paris will be. It will almost be like being a fresher all over again, making new friends, getting used to a completely new environment.
Then there’s the question of how to prepare. I’m trying to suck up all the babble and ‘Collins easy learning French’ guides as quickly as I can. But there’s more than the language. I’ve tried to dive into the most famous, accessible literature and films about and set in Paris as possible, ‘Midnight in Paris’, ‘Before Sunset’, ‘Paris J’taime’, The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford…
I’m aware that the list above includes Americans and British perspectives on Paris. Which led me to wonder if an outsider perspective is something one can ever get past if you were not born into the country. After living in the Netherlands for eleven years I still wouldn’t call myself Dutch but I am definitely no longer a foreigner.
What is the right way to experience a city? Are you just a ‘tourist’ – whatever that means, when you stop to take to a snap of the Eiffel tower, or is it really a crime to visit Paris and not climb the Eiffel tower? Can I visit the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe… walk the less well known streets and still advance from status of British tourist to a true Parisian?
I imagine the answer is different to everyone, that we all experience foreign countries and cultures in our own way. And my approach will e to try and do as much as possible in the time I have and in the words of Christopher Isherwood, become, “a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” ( – through the noble art of blogging instead of by diary of course).