Some Americans leave Paris disillusioned; missing the idealized image they arrived with and disappointed by the real thing after Hollywood’s interpretations. But for me, Paris is still magic. It’s better than I ever dreamed it could be, more intensely full of art and history, life and culture. For some people, Paris is a weekend trip or just something to check off a list, but the city cannot be captured in a short amount of time. Maybe not in any amount of time. But in my semester, a mere hundred days, I found a piece of Paris to guard as my own.
I’d like to say that I grew up in Paris.
Not because I actually spent my formative years, or even a great amount of time, here, but because it was here in this far away almost imaginary place that I came into my own as an individual and as myself. I think our adventure toward becoming ourselves never really ends—we are always learning, always growing. But I think it’s also fair to say that some experiences leave us more profoundly changed, inspired and maybe even more ourselves. Really, truly on my own for the first time, I found the strength I thought had been lacking and the passion I thought had been fading.
Living abroad does not just broaden your horizons, it entirely recolors your world view. You learn to look at your existence, your habits, your country, your traditions as an outsider, how someone else perceives your world and what happens in it. I learned how very prideful the United States can be, and how very much I inadvertently talk superiorly about Wisconsin compared to other states. I also saw how easy it is to forget that other parts of the world exist.
Learning about the countries that France colonized and the countries of the European Union, I began to understand how the pieces of the world and global history fit together. Off on our own geographically and historically, the U.S. has been remarkably isolated. With a nation so large and diverse, it is easy to forget that there is a whole world out there that existed long before we did Living among the history, mythology, art, architecture, legend and tradition older than the oldest parts of our country is remarkably humbling.
As I leave Paris I think of all I’ve learned here, and I realize that the French never truly say goodbye: their phrases for parting really only mean until the next time, the next hour, the next view.