Caroline Clarke is a student at Furman University and an ISA Featured Blogger. Caroline is currently studying abroad with ISA in Paris, France.
I have officially landed in Paris! In efforts to fight jet lag, we set our bags down in our home-stay and hit the streets. Our host mother is quintessentially French, and the house is an entirely vertical building with a different room on each floor or landing. I lugged my duffel to the top of the third floor and was awestruck; next to my bed is a window that opens to the Paris skyline. I donned my trench coat, and grabbed my pocket map of the metro system, and my roommates and I headed toward the opera. For our first stop in the city, we emerged from the subway system and heard live music playing from the steps of the Opera house. It was a sight to see, and I instantly forgot all about my exhaustion and the fact that it was 2:00am back in Texas. We then meandered through Paris until we were sleep walking through the Tuileries, and decided to call it a day. Everything was made from scratch at our first dinner with our new “house mom” from the cous cous to the pear tart. Overall it was a good start to the summer. I think I’m going to get used to the Parisian lifestyle, except the language barrier may be a little challenging.
My first official day in Paris began with the sun streaming in through our French windows, and the birds chirped outside. After a small breakfast we set off to ISA orientation by metro. How many 20-year-old southern Americans does it take to figure out the metro? Four. We arrived at the ISA office barely on time, and I made a mental note to study the metro map before bed tonight. As we walked into our program office it was exciting to see so many people all here to study various subjects from history to business. During orientation, the local staff told us the “do’s” and “don’ts” of Parisians. For instance, loudly speaking in English while crowded around a large map at the metro station is a faux pas. Once the orientation ended we had the rest of the afternoon off and decided to get lost in Paris. Learning how to navigate the city by walking makes more sense than staring at a map. After meandering for about an hour, we followed Libby, one of my roommates, and stopped at King Falafel in the Marais area. Biting into the falafel momentarily transported me to Greece; the ingredients were so fresh and the hummus was homemade. We continued walking around in search of a park to stop in and enjoy our falafel. Note: Parisians do not eat on the go. In the process we passed by some amazing street performers. Fueled by our lunch, we resumed our adventure around Paris and discovered the streets for hours. I made notes of which stores and bakeries I wanted to return to. I was baffled that we would walk down one street and come out on the other side in a completely different arrondissement (district). A cute cafe called ” The Little Cafe” was calling our name as we decided it was time for a coffee break around 4:30pm. Time flies over here when you are exploring with new friends. It wasn’t until late evening that we decided to head back home just in time for dinner. As I write this there are lights gleaming outside and the sounds of Paris streets at night. Although I still may need to consult my map in order to get around Paris, I definitely feel like I am making it my home.
Monday was the first day of class, and since we have different schedules the four roommates parted ways at the top of the metro. I was officially navigating Paris on my own. After a successful first trip solo, I was more confident with my metro skills, and made a whole morning of errands around Paris. I picked up my textbooks, got a few other school supplies, and loaded my NaviGo etc. Finally, I was walking toward my school and realized, I was the foreign student in the class this time, and it was unchartered territory for me. However, before I could worry too much, my teacher entered the room dressed in all black, Red Bull in hand, and ready to go. “Monsieur Savoir-Faire” began class with interactive examples, and obvious passion that only the French possess. I immediately realized this was going to be an interesting class and furiously wrote in my journal as he went through slide after slide. Following class we went on a tour of the campus. The universities in Paris are not the same as ours in the States with sprawling quads and multiple buildings and multilevel libraries. Instead, there are multiple schools in one building which looks like an apartment complex from the outside, there is a small library in the basement, and classes can be held in various buildings throughout the arrondissement. Finally we concluded the day by climbing over 280 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Ascending the Arc de Triomphe was the perfect ending to my day. The monument was constructed by Napoleon Bonaparte and commemorates the triumphs of Paris. For example, the Tour de France finishes at this point, Bastille day is celebrated underneath the Arc, and it is the gate to the Champs Elysees. As I stood on top of the structure and looked across the Paris skyline at the Eiffel tower, I felt like I was finally becoming an independent Parisian and was conquering the city, one metro stop at a time.