[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Olimpia Carias, who just finished her junior year, majoring in English Literature with a minor in Spanish.]
It didn’t hit me yet as I was making sure everything I needed was in my carry on. “Pack lightly!” they had said and so I debated if I had too many socks packed away. I slept soundly the night before departing to Paris and the excitement was still budding. Even while on the plane to Paris it still hadn’t hit me; me, yes me! I was going to be in Paris. Who would’ve thought this dream of mine would come true?
It began with a flyer on one of the tables in my Text and Image class with Dr. Dockray-Miller and Tony Apesos. I glanced at the flyers and thought how nice it would be to go to Paris. The art, the culture, the history of it all! But it was only a passing thought. However, Dr. D began class by beaming about this course and that there was a scholarship to be awarded to a deserving applicant. Why would I give up on an opportunity such as that? I took it upon myself to apply for the scholarship in spite of my worries of not being chosen. I had always wanted to study abroad but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do so, mainly because of funding.
The generosity of the Humanities Division here at Lesley is the reason why I was able to set foot in the classroom of Kimberly Lowe and Stuart Steck, as well as setting foot on the cobblestone pavements of the enchanting city we were learning about. In preparation for the travel portion of our class, we explored and unraveled the history of Paris since the Ancien Regime of 1109. We continued on to learn about the French Revolution, The Napoleonic Empire, Paris Commune and The Third Republic.
Our class time truly changed my expectations of Paris. Most people, myself included, tend to think of the romantic glamour, fancy delicacies and the Eiffel Tower when it comes to Paris but there is so much more. There is a current of perseverance that brings the French to the forefront of what it means to be revolutionary. Their connection to religion is evident in the architecture of Paris as well as the abundance of churches that range in gothic to baroque stylings.
When we arrived in Paris we took a bus away from the banlieue, the equivalent to low-income housing projects, and towards the center of the city. With tired eyes, I took everything in and noted the subtle change from the poorer side of Paris to its more affluent center. For this to be my first impression Paris is greatly important; it already expresses the city’s divide of socioeconomic class as well as the change of infrastructure as you arrive to the Paris that people know and love. It was this first impression that made me think that Paris isn’t so different from the U.S. in regard to disparities in class.
After settling our belongings into our assigned hotel rooms, we continued on with our journey which seemed to have no end. We were constantly on the go, and I loved that. Kim and Stuart threw us into Parisian culture almost quite literally. We visited a bustling food market to buy any food that we would need during the week and I was shocked at the chaos of it all. Of course, the food looked fresh and promising but there was so many people! This was a way for the student to become accustomed to the hustle and bustle of Parisian culture as well as getting used to the currency. I was nervous as I handed the cashier my euros, although she gave me a reassuring smile and asked if I spoke English. I nodded and she proceeded to tell me that I needed to go weigh my apples first before purchasing them. I rushed passed the long line behind me, slightly embarrassed but then erased that thought. Who was I to know? It was a learning experience!
We continued on with our adventure by taking the metro, which was an experience in and of itself. Did you know their trains use rubber belts to reduce the amount of noise emitted from the tracks? Take note, Boston. We visited Notre Dame and learned about the intricate details of the building, taking a look inside as the glow of candles made me feel a sense of serenity. The Louvre was an immense maze of beauty while the Musee d’Orsay felt like a more intimate museum experience. We sipped coffee at Café Hugo in the Latin Quarter, only a few steps from the home of Victor Hugo and had lunch in the ancient Roman Arena. We stared up at the Arc de Triomphe as well as the Eiffel Tower, which I visited again and went up on with friends as it sparkled during the brisk night. We roamed the Luxembourg Gardens, watching the children play with sailboats in the fountain and made our way through the charming shops of Le Marais.
Out of all of these moments, I treasured the moments when I was alone. During our free time I would get lost in the dreamy alleyways of Paris, simply taking in my surroundings and enjoying the company of the city. After making some souvenir purchases and munching on a croissant, I headed back to the hotel on the metro. It was that moment that I was overwhelmed with emotion and realizations. Here I am, amongst others…just living, just experiencing. Where were they headed? What were their lives like? After contemplating this I came to the conclusion that we aren’t so different after all.
Our last class was emotionally charged as we shared our experiences and exchanged photos. We turned in our research papers, mine being a feminist critique on Manet’s painting Olympia, and we also talked about modern day Paris, further acknowledging the economic and racial tensions of the banlieue. I had left Paris heartbroken and aching for more. I then made a goal for myself: to learn French (again) and to return not as a tourist, but as a new member of their society. This wasn’t just a study abroad trip; it was an unforgettable, enriching adventure that I would do all over again.