Goodbye Paris, Goodbye EU

Two weeks ago my parents drove to Paris to take me home. We had chosen the worst day and worst hour to move out as France were playing against the Republic of Ireland and the fan zone in the Eiffel Tower Park was crowded with hundreds of football fans. Nevertheless, we eventually finished carrying all of my boxes and bags down the seven flights of stairs, I said goodbye to my lovely landlords and to the small chambre de bonne in which I had been staying in for the past nine months and finally, goodbye to Paris.

I’ve had an amazing year. Paris is expensive and working part time as an au pair and having the Erasmus grant gave me some breathing space. It’s also meant that I’ve had privilege to travel to Ireland, Bordeaux, Valencia, Brussels, Germany and Italy from Paris.

IWP_20160207_21_00_22_Rich‘m going to miss a lot of things; seeing Parisians carrying and already eating their baguettes on the streets (back home they call them French sticks…?), the fresh bread, pain au chocolat, art museums, sitting by the Seine, the French brasseries, the crêperies, the tiny, but very chic Parisian bars where my and friends and I often ended up drinking over-expensive glasses of wine on the terrasse, being in the fan zone for the free David Guetta and Zara Larsson concert, the two girls I looked after, the Versailles gardens… even just having to constantly try to speak French. I think my brain will miss the extra challenge! But most of all I’m going to miss, walking down Avenue de Suffren in the evening, after a long day and seeing the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle on the hour.

It was strange seeing many of my friends who chose not to do a year abroad post on Facebook results of their degrees and how they are relieved their dissertations are over. I still have to go back to Warwick for my final year and yet I know choosing to do a year abroad was the right decision for me. It wasn’t always easy, being in Paris when the attacks happened and my friends and I have had our fair share of disagreements with how some of the ways things are done at Paris-Sorbonne. But it has always been a learning experience, through the highs and lows.

For anyone considering doing an Erasmus year; if you’re looking for a bit of an adventure, a time when for once your studies do not have to be your priority, the chance to travel, to experience a new culture and meet people all over the world then I cannot recommend this experience enough.

We live in an increasingly globalised world where unlike hundreds of years ago, it is much easier for some people to jump on a plane and cross continents in a matter of hours instead of months. Growing up in an international school at Eindhoven has definitely shaped my perspective on how I view the world, but I think it was the first time that I travelled without my parents to Spain, for a volunteering camp where I helped Spanish students with English, that I first really caught the travelling bug.

I was devastated to find out on the morning of 24th June that the UK had voted to leave the EU. Two days before officially ending my Erasmus year it was very sad to know that in the future, other UK students may not have the chance to be part of the Erasmus programme anymore. In such an increasingly globalised world it seemed shocking that the UK were taking steps away from unifying with other European countries in terms of valuable trade and services, instead it feels like we are taking fatal steps back into our past stances of isolationism.

I don’t want to go on a political rant, however I felt that I could not write my goodbye post to Paris without mentioning the referendum. I of course voted Remain, and it seemed that most people in my social circle, young people, students and English expats voted the same.

Because I am:

  • An ex-English expat,
  • A student at Warwick University where a large portion of the students and staff are EU and international students,
  • An Erasmus student
  • And the grandchild of grandparents who moved from Jamaica to London in the ’60s in the hopes of a better life,

I voted Remain. I stand by that vote after Boris and Farage suddenly left their posts as head leaders of the leave campaign and several of their promises have revealed to be lies. I stand by that vote after hate crimes against immigrants have been seen to be on the rise in the UK.

I don’t think the EU is perfect and I’m aware that serious changes need to be made in the EU and in the UK; with the NHS and poorer areas of our country where unemployment is leading people to desperation.

I don’t think that leaving the EU was the right change we needed to make. And so I will head back to the UK in October, slightly scared and worried about the divided country I will return to. Hopefully we are only going through the worst of it now, and things will pick up politically and economically for the UK. Now that the deciding vote has been cast we can only wait and see. I am just thankful that I will have my many, warm memories of ‘Pah-ree’ to look back on when I return.

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Countdown to Pah-ree!

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).

Photo: Wikimedia