I ate a croque monsieur on the Metro this afternoon while on my way to see a museum exhibit on Napoleon’s first wife Josephine. An accordion player played a tune while the train passed by the Eiffel Tower. No, this isn’t one of those SNL skits making fun of French stereotypes — this is what it’s like to study abroad in Paris.
I’ve been living in Paris since January to study at NYU’s campus here. My first few weeks were filled with one culture shock after another, but now that I’m settled into life here, I don’t want to leave. Here are just a few of the things I’ll miss the most when I return to life in the United States.
1. Speaking French: Two months after moving here, I felt like French finally clicked into place for me. I was suddenly able to understand what people were saying and jabber back at them without too much effort. It’s thrilling to navigate life in a new language here — by contrast, I rarely get so much joy out of speaking English.
2. Traveling: One of the best parts of studying abroad in Europe is the ease of traveling to other countries and within your own country. Last month, I hopped over to Barcelona for a weekend with a friend. Just yesterday, I got back from a class trip to Normandy to see the medieval abbey Mont-Saint-Michel. And next week, I’m spending spring break in Italy and Greece. With a little savvy planning (like early morning flights and staying in Airbnbs) travel doesn’t have to be expensive. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to explore other parts of the world while I’m abroad, but I know it won’t be quite the same once I’m back in the United States. Somehow, shuttling back and forth between New York and Boston on the Megabus six times a year doesn’t have quite the same charm.
3. Faire la bise: The two cheek kisses known as faire la bise will look unbearably obnoxious back at home, and the explanation will only sound worse. “Oh, sorry, I forgot you don’t do faire la bise here. I just got back from Paris!”
4. Free time: Study abroad is lightyears away from the real world. If I want to spend six hours at the Musée d’Orsay or celebrate Wine Wednesday with too much enthusiasm, so be it. For the first time ever, I don’t have early morning classes, an internship, or a heavy roster of extra-curriculars. Graduation and the real world are just a year away, so I’m making a conscious effort to enjoy the freedom of college life while I can.
5. The Eiffel Tower: My Metro stop is just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. When I go home at night, the train passes the tower lit up and glittering and huge in the dark. It looks too perfect to be real, as if someone placed one of those Eiffel Tower keychain souvenirs in the middle of a shrunken city. It might be clichéd, but it’s one of the prettiest sights in Paris, and I’ll miss it terribly once I leave. (My subway stop in New York has a slightly less picturesque view of oversized rats.)
6. The boulangeries: I’m a bagel fiend through and through, but even I switched to croissants in Paris. When done well, they should be doughy and sweet on the inside, flaky and crispy on the outside. The best I’ve ever tasted was at Au Chien Qui Fume on Boulevard du Montparnasse. It was life-changing, and now I can never return to sad, plastic-wrapped Starbucks pastries ever again.
7. The Metro: It’s shockingly clean — the seats gleam! — and runs every two minutes. It’s a dream.
8. The architecture: During the 19th century, much of the center of Paris was demolished, reorganized, and reconstructed in a process called Haussmannization to widen the boulevards and create the aesthetic its known for today. Today, most streets are lined with uniform rows of cream and taupe buildings with black iron windowsills.
9. People-watching: There’s a very specific kind of people-watching here that I love. Paris doesn’t have the eclectic vibe of New York (I’ve yet to encounter a man carrying a taxidermied bear head down the street, like I once did in the East Village), but it does have an overwhelming sense of glamour. I’ll miss my daily street style inspiration, ranging from teens wearing flawless cat-eyes to tottering, elderly ladies in elegant furs on my walk to school.
10. The sense of history and documentation: Parts of Paris feel so firmly entrenched in history, it’s easy to imagine every moment as something you’ll look back on from the future. I know I have just four months here, so I want to make the most of it and remember it all. I’m conscious of recording every moment in my travel journal and through photography. When my grandmother came to Paris as a young woman in the 1940s, she kept a travel journal called “A Diary of a Broad Abroad.” In honor of her, I borrowed the title for my Facebook photo album. Even if my journals and photos are just for me, I like feeling as if I’m contributing to the sense of recorded history that surrounds Paris.