My study abroad in Paris a few years ago was and always will be the summer I felt happiest, the summer I got to hold my own hand, the summer that the world felt infinite and my bones grew stronger from all the romance and nostalgia and magic.
Paris was a balcony apartment in a beautiful garden walk-up and the three girls I shared it with, the stories we wrote across pavement, getting so drunk in the afternoons, playing music and dancing barefoot, all culminating in smoking cigarettes and eating sandwiches over the city in the 14th arrondisement as the sun turned the sky pink with modesty at our ramblings before the stars perked up and came to listen.
Paris was a film class in the muggy dark, our teacher the epitome of a French woman: sleek bob, shoulders bare, the topics of lust and sophistication always fresh on her tongue. It was Amelie, La Haine, good conversation over better whiskey or wine, the haze of abstract cinematography, and blurry-eyed staring over concrete and grass.
Paris was soft, but it was also electric. We were lightning bolts across the Champs and in that secret club under the Ponte Alexander. We were sparklers with the rich kids we made friends with, trying $800 champagne and yelling at the tops of our lungs in formal wear and red lipstick.
Paris was not Paris at all, but a venture back in time to Versailles, sundresses and strawberries on a long train ride, heads on each other’s shoulders as the buildings crumpled into sprawling fields. It was marble and gilded gold and royalty’s pale ghosts, sorbet by crystal lakes and wearing the hand prints of lost queens on our shoulders. And after, hitching a bus to nowhere, stumbling across vibrant fruit and flower fields on the countryside and spending hours eating veggies and building bouquets from the ground, only to realize that the last ride back home had come and gone, and we had to hitchhike till dark, doubled over with laughter and the thrill of danger.
Paris was an affair with my high school crush who I encountered in Europe and spent a blissful week with four years after I swore I was going to marry that exchange student someday, and then thought I’d never see him again. It was parted lips, brushes of skin, legs dangling over the Seine, hips swaying, eyes meeting in the dark, staring breathlessly at the ceiling with my favorite, favorite stranger.
Paris was an adventure. It was buying the perfect dress and smoking too much and always eating outside and making mistakes and crying with my friends for all that I had lost and was about to gain, sight-seeing and bright lights along the Seine bringing tears to my eyes, making me want the world for myself, all while folding over museums and boutiques, roses, fresh tattoos, and heartbreak.
It was everything it had promised me it would be when I was eight years old and hanging up a picture of the Eiffel Tower in my dingy little room, paper cut fingers and thumbtacks. I’m going to make it there someday.
Maybe your study abroad won’t be exactly like mine, but I guarantee that it’ll be something you’ll never forget. Whether you decide to traipse the cobblestone and thick canals of Italy or roam the castles and vast greens of Scotland, allowing a new place to hold you in its arms for a little while will give you an aversion to standing still.
Let fear be your new home.