I have spent the last four months of my life living in Paris. It is a bit surreal.

It’s unreal to look back at the challenges I have faced, the incredible opportunities placed before me, the growth that occurred and the intangible knowledge that I will walk away with.

Claire-12-1.JPGThe simplest moments I have had in Paris are the moments that will forever be engraved in my mind. The smells of fresh croissants from the boulangeries as I first step out of the metro each morning; the brightness of the sunshine on a beautiful day that causes me to squint with happiness amidst the freezing weather; or the satisfaction of walking for three hours after classes – with no purpose and no destination – just walking because I can.

Each day in Paris has been incredible – it really has – and I feel obligated to suck every ounce of life out of the sun-soaked boulevards. Because of this “treasured” guilt, I truly can walk away from this city feeling like I saw nearly everything I wanted to see – and far more than I thought possible and probable.

Claire-12-2.JPGMy little black book of Paris – a journal guide that once was clean, untouched and perfect – now looks like a wreck! But it is a wreck of treasured memories – full of pages torn from use, others covered in the remnants of a cafe and others still so concealed in scribbles and notes that who knows what was once originally under it. The pages tell a story – they show a new discovery, or a new cafe open late, or a unique boutique that a deep-spirited friend would drool over – each page holding a piece of a memory made at some point or another.

I have an unset schedule each day – classes each morning, setting off my days in Paris – and as lunch curls around, right when the skies are most incredible, when you stop and look around and wonder how the clouds could be so beautiful – I start to walk. My afternoons are always changing and always evolving with new walks and changing sights.

If I could step in and give a piece of advice for people who have never been to Paris – or for people who want to come to Paris, not as a tourist but as a traveler – I would say one thing: walk. Walk everywhere! It is amazing that it took me nearly two months here to realize how small this city is and how incredible it is to get lost on the back streets hidden with small boutiques and cozy restaurants.

Claire-12-4.JPGThat has been my favorite thing about Paris – the fact that I can take a new route every day to the same destination – only to constantly find new cafes or markets. I love the “wide-eye syndrome” that I seem to have as I explore this city that never stops. I constantly get excited to find new restaurants and patisseries, boutiques and bookstores, and coffee shops and cafes. I love the organic shapes that the Paris streets seem to take, turning at unexpected corners and moving through the city telling a story and involving as many people as possible.

I can’t think of words worthy to describe these last four months, to realistically paint this picture of what I have been blessed to experience … everything from surreal, growth, opportunity, challenge, faith to love and discovery are just a few that come to mind, but hardly break the tip of the iceberg!

As I look at my last days in Paris – amidst exams and packing – I stand in awe of how fast my time has gone by. Just yesterday it seems I flew out of the States not knowing what to expect, I walked along the beaches in Normandy, I soaked up the sun in the French Riviera, I experienced an unforgettable Budapest pub crawl, I saw the true colors of fall painted in Prague, I cheered on France’s rugby team with 80,000 fans on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower, I had an unforgettable Thanksgiving in London and a flashback to the 80s, I had the opportunity to understand that Belgian chocolate really is the best … and I had the chance to live in one of the most amazing cities in the world. But now I’m biased …

As much as I have loved this experience, it is hard to compare it to the people, the community, the relationships and the familiarity waiting for me back in the States! I can’t thank you all enough for patiently walking through this semester with me, for encouraging me and making the effort to keep me included and a part of your life! It means more to me than you know!

Earnest Hemmingway once wrote, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young person, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” And I would have to agree …