James in Paris

James, a French and history double major, is returning to France in Spring 2009 for his second semester abroad. He is hoping to reconnect with old friends and his French family while working on his language and culture skills in preparation for graduation and a master’s degree program.

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First week back in France

Well, my first week back in France is almost over. Suffice to say, I’m exhausted. Today was the first day that I was able to sleep in, and I slept till 12! So, what’s been going on?

Well, let’s start with when I arrived. I came back and saw my French family last Sunday, which was really nice. Then afterward I met up with my friend Loic. We had drinks at this cafe near my place (apparently he lives really close to me now). It was really nice to see him, we caught up and talked about random stuff. After that I decided to go and walk around the city for a bit. I grabbed diner at some creperie around the rue d’Italie and walked for about two or three hours I guess. It still amazes me how you can just walk around this city for hours on end and never ever get bored. There is always something to see! Then I came back to my house and passed out. What a great first day!

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To Versailles
The next morning I woke up and took the RER to the airport to meet my group. It was kind of cool seeing them all there, nervous and excited about their big adventure in France. We went from the airport to Versailles by bus, which only took us about an hour. Once at Versailles, we put our bags in our rooms and headed for a big lunch at this restaurant called Le Bleu Roi, right across the street from the palace. The lunch was nice, and it was certainly fun to get to know the whole group.

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The whole experience in Versailles was mostly repetitive for me from the last time I was here with my SMU group. Nevertheless, the palace is of course beautiful and the city does have its charm. My classmates really seemed to like it, so that was cool. We spent the next two days in Versailles doing tours, getting to know each other, and trying to get over our jetlag. By Wednesday, everyone was anxious to get into Paris and I was certainly ready to get back to a sense of normalcy.

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Oh yeah, and I forgot that I decided to stay in Versailles for my birthday. I debated on whether or not I wanted to take the RER back to Paris for the night to spend it with some friends, but by the time we got done with dinner I was really tired and didn’t feel like making the trip. The group did however sing me happy birthday while we were at dinner so that was really nice. I got to talk to some family too later on that night. Overall, a very good, albeit different, birthday.

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Orientation in Paris
So, Wednesday night we got back in Paris and began the “Parisian” part of our orientation. Again, mostly the same stuff for me. Thursday we went on a tour of the Louvre (just to really show everyone how to get there, where certain things are, etc). Friday we got to go to the National Assembly and see how that part of their government works. It was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve seen in France. We got to sit in on a session and watch their senators (the closest equivalent that I can think of in English) argue and debate about this issue and that. We stayed in there for about thirty minutes, which was really neat.

What’s new
SOOO now that all of that is out of the way, I can finally talk about how this is all so different than the last time I was here. For starters, it’s like I never left. I remember most of the places and details about where everything is in this city. Walking around this city feels absolutely normal for me now, which is a very rewarding feeling. Furthermore, it’s so nice to be able to reconnect with the friends and family that I made the last time I was here.

My experience with the Valencourt family is totally different as well. For starters, they are much more relaxed and laid back with me. We talk and talk and talk at dinner and it really is like I never left their warm home. We have easily fallen back into our routines, which is really cool. Thursday night I got to hang out with my friend Jeremy for a bit and we had so much fun! We met up and just chatted for awhile till he had to leave to go home for dinner at 8.

Another nice thing is that it’s kinda cool to be able to give all this helpful advice to the new students here. It’s cool to see all of them, in the same shoes that I was in over a year ago, trying to orient themselves around the city. They all look so curious and so excited to see the city. I can’t say that I envy them necessarily, but I do think it’s really cool to look at them and see a younger, much more naive me. It reminds me of the difficulty I had here the first time I came: the confusion over how to work the metro, the anxiety over living with a foreign family, and the overwhelming feeling of living in a big and bustling city.

Another different experience for me this time is the fact that I don’t feel the urge to completely, 100 percent submerge myself in the culture. The last time I was here, I (like many Americans who first move to the country) kind of tried to lose my American identity (along with my life in Dallas) because I was so wrapped up in things there. By the time I left Paris, I was convinced that there was no other place that I wanted to live and I was almost ready to give up my life in Dallas (I mean, I could never do that, but my heart kind of wanted to).

The funny thing is that I see that same attitude in the students in my group. But for me, it’s quite different. I really found out a lot about myself in the last year and a half, both in Dallas and in Paris. Coming back to Dallas and staying for a year really helped me find my identity as both an American and an expat living in Paris. Being here again now, I’m proud of my heritage, of my culture, and of my background. I don’t go around acting pompous in any way, but I certainly do not try to hide the fact that I am American. Nor am I going to let myself forget about my family and friends by not keeping in touch. I have made, and will continue to make, very strong efforts to talk to everyone and let them know that, even though I’m 5,000 miles away, I’m still here for them.

So, in short, I’m very happy to be back in Paris. I’m anxious to get my life restarted here and to begin looking for jobs and internships. I’m anxious to see what it’s like to really live in France, not as an American student studying with an American university, but as an American trying to truly exist abroad in a foreign country. I think I can pull it off too, with a little bit of help from those connections I’ve made here.

As for my French? Well I’ve received many compliments from French people that I speak very well. That is soo rewarding for me! The last time I was here I tended to cower away from speaking French, only speaking English to those who I knew were able to. Now, I speak French all the time. If I know someone is French, regardless of the fact that they speak English, I will speak French to them. First of all, the conversation usually flows a lot better. But secondly, I’m in France for God’s sake! So, it’s been great. I love speaking French because it reminds me of all the hard work I’ve done to try to get a firm grasp of the language. I know I still have a lot to learn, but I’m anxious to do so.

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