Living In Paris: A Study Abroad Survivor’s Guide
“The issues I faced during my study abroad experience ranged from minor annoyances to legitimate struggles. Now I look back on those experiences with enough humility and hindsight to laugh and learn from them.”
I survived a semester of studying abroad. Barely. At times, I thought I wouldn’t make it. Life was hard. I had almost lost hope, but I managed to pull through and brave the hardships that came with living in Paris, France.
All jokes aside, spending a semester studying in another country was one of the best decisions of my life. In the five months I was there, I fell in love with the beauty of the city and its culture. Even now, it feels more like a dream than a memory.
That being said, I did encounter my fair share of obstacles. The issues I faced during my study abroad experience ranged from minor annoyances to legitimate struggles. Now I look back on those experiences with enough humility and hindsight to laugh and learn from them with the hopes that some might find them just as useful.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
Before my trip, I had taken three years of French in high school and three semesters of French in college. Plus, I had a natural aptitude with languages and usually picked them up faster than my classmates. By comparison, I seemed fluent. So naturally I thought I had a solid grasp of the French language before boarding the plane.
Within minutes of arriving to Paris, this illusion had been shattered. The border agent talked in unintelligible globs. My taxi driver spoke too quickly. Even my host parents just seemed to be making words up. I realized just how much I still had to learn. Fortunately, I would spend the next few months studying the language. I eventually learned, but not before accidentally cursing out the waiter while trying to ask for the Duck.
After the first few weeks of sheer excitement wore off, I found myself with a new problem. I needed to eat. Unfortunately, my host parents did not cook for me (I decided against paying the extra money for that) nor did the school have its own cafeteria. I also didn’t have the budget to eat out in Paris every night, so I was left with one option. I would have to cook for myself.
The only problem was I didn’t know how to cook. I had gotten that far in life relying on meal plans and mom’s cooking. The most challenging recipe I could make was pancakes. So I was forced to eat the few struggle foods I knew. I survived on a diet of buttered noodles and fried potatoes, occasionally treating myself to TV dinners. One day, my host parent saw me in the kitchen and left repeating, “Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes” in what I can only guess was meant to show slight confusion or mild concern.
Nappy in Paris
In retrospect, the last problem I had was completely avoidable. I hadn’t thought of what I was going to do with my hair while I was away. Being from a place where finding a barber is as easy as walking down the street, I assumed getting a decent fade would be simple. This turned out to be true for the most part. Paris is more diverse than many European cities so finding someone who would be familiar with the texture of my hair was easy.
However, one of the other Howard students who was in Paris with me went for a haircut during our second week in the city. He left in a rage after the barber had taken out more hair than he expected, resulting in a haircut that looked lopsided at best. I did not want to suffer the same fate, so I decided against getting a haircut altogether. I also grew a beard for reasons that are still a little unclear to me. When I finally got home, it looked less like I had spent time in Paris and more like I had returned from being lost at sea.
But in all honesty, I loved every moment of my trip- even the struggles. Each one added to the experience and allowed me to grow. From this wisdom I can leave you with two pieces of advice: (1) traveling is always worth it and (2) the French word for duck is “canard” so make sure you pronounce the ‘a’.
Erick B., Kansas City, MO
Follow Erick on IG @Ezikuhl