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.

Saturday morning wrap-up

Well, it’s about 2 AM here, and I’m very homesick. With most of my friends and family being seemingly unable to answer their phones in the United States, I figured it’d be a good time to reflect on all that has happened lately.

So, let’s start with winter break. Not much to say there really. I ended up only going to Nancy for a few hours. Basically, once in Nancy my camera broke and I decided to go back to Paris. Honestly though, I didn’t want to go anywhere.

When I got back to Paris I realized one important thing: I’m tired of moving around. I pretty much forced myself to go on my little two-day excursion because I felt I had to do something. But, I remembered two important things: 1) This trip is not like the last time I was here, I no longer have the desire to trot around the continent like a giant tourist, and 2) it is perfectly fine to spend as much time as possible in Paris. In fact, I’m beginning to learn what its really like to live in this city … and I like what I’m learning.

A day all in French

As expected I’m not really spending too much time with my American classmates. As a matter of fact I don’t spend any time with them outside of Reid Hall. I spend most of my time with my few French friends or my family, or with the person I’m dating at the moment (though that’s not going as well as I’d like … I won’t talk about it now though). Indeed, I feel like I’m in a completely different place than my classmates, which isn’t a bad thing at all. They are where I was over a year ago, and I came back so that I could grow even more. On that note, I would like to talk about the wonderful day I had, all in French.

I have been learning French for over seven years now, but I consider parissign.jpgthat I have only been able to speak French for about two years. In fact, I feel that I only really learned French after I lived here, because none of the other stuff in classes before ever stuck with me. It may have prepared me to live in France, but in no way made me fluent.

(In the photo right: This sign that is posted around any monument or place that was an important battleground in French history. The sign says “To all the French: France has lost a battle, but France has not lost the war!” Referring to the 2nd World War, of course. At the bottom it says, “Long Live France” and is signed by Charles de Gaulle, the famous general who brought France out of the 2nd World War and was the first President of the 5th Republic. I just thought it was a cool little sign.)

I spent the day today with my friend Jeremy in the suburbs of Paris. He met me at the train station and we walked to the house of a family friend of his. I’m always nervous about meeting French people I don’t know at first because I worry that they’ll think I’m a poor speaker. Nevertheless, the whole thing went wonderfully. We probably spent five hours there, talking about every subject known to man, entirely in French.

I spoke to my friend later on that evening and he told me that his family friend was quite amazed at how well I could understand and speak French, and he told me that even he was surprised at how well I held myself during the conversation. And, well, that’s when I realized something … I’ve come a really long way in two years.

I mean, think about it. I look back at old journal entries from before I ever came to France and I talk about how scared I was to even say “Bonjour,” for fear that the other person might say something else that I wouldn’t understand. I spend almost my entire day, every day, speaking and thinking in French. While I am by no means 100% fluent, I certainly know my way around the language. In fact, I have learned so many more expressions and words over the last month (not to mention the last couple of years) that I feel totally confident and secure in speaking French.

It still amazes me sometimes, it really does. The fact that, here I am, little old James from Texas, sitting and conversing fluently in a foreign language in a place that is half-way around the world from where I came from. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’m rather proud of myself for that achievement.

And on another note, things seem to be coming together for my future months in the city. I’m waiting to hear back about an internship I’ve applied for (I’m really crossing my fingers on this one) and I’m talking to SMU about how I can spend yet another semester here with a French university. I continue to meet new people here all the time, and I’m feeling more and more comfortable with being just an ordinary person living in Paris rather than an American student studying here for a spell. I feel like I know this city, this language, and this culture enough to provide solid input into any conversation about it.

A city on strike

Speaking of culture, let’s talk about the strikes! Suffice to say strikes.jpgthere are many going on right now, each in their own little way. From the random “Paris en gr’ve” sign in the middle of the train station to the massive demonstrations of thousands of angry students in the city’s busiest streets, the French are making it very clear that they are not happy with what their government is doing. Can I blame them? Well, not really.

While I do agree with many of the reforms they are trying to pass, I also agree with what Jeremy’s friend said today, that the reforms are simply coming too quickly and the French don’t have enough time to adapt. So, as usual, it makes for a very interesting political climate that is just wonderful grounds for a conversation! I have to say that there is nothing more frightening and exhilarating than coming out of a Metro station and seeing thousands upon thousands of people in the street protesting.

At home in Paris

So, in truth, I am very happy here. While I sometimes get very homesick and very lonely, I try as hard as I can to remember all that it took for me to get here, and all that it is going to take for me to fulfill my dreams and ambitions. I try to remember why I came here, why I love this country so much, and why I want to stay. BUT…don’t ever think for a moment that I will ever be anything other than an American. I’m very proud of my country and my heritage, and I will be the first person to tell anyone that.

My friend Jeremy told me tonight that one of the things that he liked about me was that, unlike most expats who come to live in France, I can be both critical of my country while being extremely patriotic. Well, that’s me in a nutshell. I can be critical because I’m an American, and I will never criticize the French government in front of a French person because I don’t feel it’s my right to do so. While I of course have my opinions, I keep them quiet for the most part unless I am directly asked to give them.

So, tomorrow, a busy day I suppose. I’m hoping to go to the national library (or, as I’ve come to fondly call it, the Fortress of Doom) and then having a drink with a friend later on that night. Dinner with the French family I suppose, which has been really nice lately. The parents are very nice and welcoming, and lately we’ve been having some wonderful conversations.

It took us all a bit to warm up to each other after not seeing each other for a year, but now we’re like old friends. In fact, it’s a little different this time because I think they view me more as an adult than they did before. We often talk about my future plans and they are very supportive of them. It’s nice really…I’ve noticed that they’ve begun to open up more about their personal life (jobs, interests, history, etc) as I begin to become an actual friend of theirs. I will always be indebted to them for both their hospitality and the amount of information I have learned from them.

In many ways I feel like I’m more adult this time around too. A lot has changed in my life in the last couple of years, a lot of things that have directed me to where I am now. I look back to my old journal entries from the last time I was in France and it seems to me that I was literally on a big French adventure. I didn’t want to leave the country because I was infatuated with how amazing it was. In fact, I was ready to hide my own American identity just for the sake of trying to “blend in” more.

Well, now I’ve learned a lot more about myself. I’ve learned the real reason why I want to live here and I’ve also learned how to be a proud American while still being an expat living in France. I know that I want to be here because this city and its people inspire me to do as much with my life as possible. I feel motivated and determined while I’m in this city, and in fact I am absolutely in love with it. I’m in love with it not from a tourist’s point of view (in that…”oh it’s so pretty, oh the Eiffel tower!”), but rather from that of someone who can go to a random bridge in the middle of the city, stand looking over the river, and think to himself that he is finally in a place where, for whatever reason, he feels like he belongs.

So, while I will always be homesick and while I will always miss my family and friends…for now I plan to stay here. There are so many opportunities for me here, and so many reasons why I should stay. As I’ve said before…America may be my home, but Paris is where I grew up :). ‘bient’t!

On a side note…I know my English sucks. After speaking French for so long I find it difficult to switch back to English sometimes…and I often have the tendency to form my sentences like I would in French. So, I apologize in advance if some of this doesn’t make sense!

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Viewing the future from Paris

IMG_5015.jpg“If you ask a French person where the ‘RRRR’ is, they will look at you like you’re crazy.”

Wow, well it’s been a little bit since I’ve last written. I guess you could say the last couple of weeks have been a bit … confusing for me, in the sense that I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what it is that I want, and can do, for the summer and following semester. I still don’t have all the answers, but I feel like I’m making progress. So, time for updates!

This week I am on vacation from classes. While everyone else in my group has taken the opportunity to galavant elsewhere, I’ve decided to spend most of my time in Paris. And, I must say, it has been very nice. I realized that, while I have lived here for some time, I have never really spent any type of “vacation” time in Paris. It’s just nice to be able to relax, enjoy the city, take walks, and visit some museums. On that note I plan on visiting the d’Orsay today :).

Three-city tour

I have, however, decided to take a small little trip outside of the city tomorrow and Thursday. Tomorrow morning I’ll leave to go to Nancy, then later on in the afternoon I’ll head off to Strasbourg where I’ll stay the night. Then, bright and early the next morning I’ll take the train to Reims, and then late in the afternoon I’ll come back to Paris. Three cities in a day and a half … I’m sure I’ll be quite tired after all of this! The nice thing though is that the whole trip was rather cheap! I bought this “carte d’abbonnement” (subscription card) for people between the ages of 12-25 (I feel kind of odd being placed in the same category as a 12 year old … but oh well) that gives you 50% discounts on train tickets.

The card itself was about $60, but it has already been worth it! I only paid $80 for four different train tickets! That’s really not bad at all. Plus my hostel is only $30 in Strasbourg! So the whole trip, three cities, cost me less than $115! If I do say so myself, I know how to travel on a budget :). Of course one of the reasons I decided to stay in the city was because of the cost of traveling.

Not knowing exactly what I’m doing this summer, I’m trying to be a bit more cautious about how much I spend on the off chance that I need to have some cash extra set aside.

What next?

The last few weeks have been all about me just trying to figure out, frankly, what I’m doing here in France. At times the whole thing seems too big for me to handle, and I feel like I should just ship myself back to Texas where I belong. But then I sit here and think about all that I’ve already accomplished, and all that I could accomplish if I really wanted to. Right now I’m coming across some … roadblocks to say the least. But, on the bright side, I feel like those obstacles are finally starting to go away. But still … what is it that I really want to do here? What is it that I’m really hoping to accomplish? And, even scarier … with graduation only a year away … what do I want to do afterward? I have no idea, to be honest, and I need to figure it out soon.

If I want any chance of getting into a master’s program I need to start studying for GMATs and preparing to apply to universities. Even if I decide to stay in France until December, I still need to get on the ball about what I wanna do after graduation. Though, my attitude at this point is to just take it one step at a time. Once I figure out
my plans for the summer and the next semester, I can begin to figure out my post-graduation plans. I think that’s the smartest thing to do, I hope. I just really want to get all this stuff figured out ASAP. I really don’t like being unorganized when it comes to matters of my future, and I like to plan everything out to the “t.”

On another note though, I keep having this awful, anxiety-driven fear that my whole world is just going to come crashing. I mean, look at everything. Here I am, little ole’ James from Dallas, Texas … totally out of my comfort zone. I’m living in Paris for goodness sakes! And I’m planning to stay in Paris for some time! I’m currently dating
someone absolutely wonderful. I spend my days wondering what museum, what city, what spectacular thing I will see next. I’m studying topics and subjects that I absolutely love. I speak a language that I’m equally in love with. I’m successfully making plans for my future, I have the support and following of all my friends and family, I’m healthy, and … I dunno. Everything is smooth sailing … do any of us
really get to be that fortunate?

I’ve also noticed that I haven’t gone to church once since I’ve been here … but isn’t that the case when our lives are going great? Isn’t it only when we are in despair that we turn to God? Hmm … I dunno. I think I need to change at least that aspect of my life. I think I’m just a bit overwhelmed and … lost right now. I have all these things in front of me and I have no idea which direction I want, or should, go in. The one thing I know is that time is flying by and I need to catch up. But I can’t let this fear of
running out of time rationalize quick decision making that could ultimately have a negative impact on my future. *Sigh*

I don’t know about everything else, but I do know that I’m very happy right now. I’m happy with my life, with my choices, with everything that I’m doing. It’s a great feeling … I just hope I am smart enough to keep it up.

Riding the “RRRRRRR”

My poor mother has been the butt of all my jokes to French people lately. The other day, while going over an outline of things my mom could do while she was here in Paris, she read the part that I had written out loud, which said, “You can take the RER from the airport to Paris.” Well, in French, “RER” is pronounced, of course, the way they
pronounce the letters, which comes out sounding like “air euh air.” My mother, in all her hilarity, pronounced it like “RRRRRRR.” So, she read it like this: “You can take the RRRRRR from the airport to Paris.” I laughed so hard I couldn’t help myself. I politely told her the right way to say it and she laughed. So, since then, I have told all my French friends and family about my poor mother’s problems with the “RER,” and they’ve all found it to be quite cute and hilarious.

The other night my French mother overheard me talking to my real mother about it, and my mere chimed in and said, in French “c’est ‘air euh air!’ ” They both laughed … I think it’s the first time they’ve ever actually talked to each other in any way! On top of that, there is this film about to come out in France called “La fille du RER” (RER Girl). I sent my mother the trailer for the movie as another part of the joke :).

Paris at night

The weather continues to be miserable here though, which is actually a good thing because I know that when the weather does get nicer I will no be able to accomplish anything! There is nothing more heavenly than walking around Paris on a sunny afternoon. Actually, I lied. My favorite time in the city is actually at night. I love going to this one bridge behind Notre Dame (I’m sure I’ve talked about this bridge a
million times) where this accordian street musician plays classic French songs. I love it because there are no cars allowed on the bridge and, during the winter and spring months, it’s kind of away from the tourists. So, most of the time at night it’s just me on the bridge. Just me and my city.

It sounds kind of weird but sometimes I feel like I’m in a relationship with the city more than anything else. We go on long walks together, we’ve been through good and bad times, I look forward more than anything to returning to it when I’m gone, and I love absolutely everything about it (even its faults)! Pretty dorky, huh? It’s just so beautiful here though! Especially at night, when all the buildings are lit up and the city is calm and somber. Nighttime is when this city really … I dunno, wakes up. Paris really becomes “Paris” at night – the city of light, the city of romance, the city of passion and unconventionality, and, most importantly, the city of my dreams. It’s during the night that you can really see all of the things that truly make Paris an amazing city. The things you can’t see in the museums, in all the monuments and landmarks. These are the things that continue to make Paris thrive, and the things that make people like me desire to live here so much.

IMG_5023.jpgSpeaking of faults, have I mentioned the strikes? Yes, of course there are strikes! This time it’s with the teachers, and I have to say I kind of agree with them on this one. The government wants to cut jobs, salaries, etc. because of the economy and budget problems. I won’t get into the details but it’s very interesting. Luckily it doesn’t really affect me, but my friends in France haven’t had classes (well … at least no professors) for weeks now. And there is no immediate end in sight. There are protests, demonstrations, all sorts of things. (In the photo, the sign says “Paris 7 en greve,” which means “Paris 7 on Strike” – Paris 7 is a university in the city.)

The other day while I was going to the national library there was a large group of students holding a rally and handing out fliers. Apparently there is going to be another protest on the 19th (when I say protest it is necessary to realize that these usually involve thousands of people taking to the streets). Too bad I’ll be in the East of France that day. Maybe I’ll see some there though!

All right, well now I must be on my way to the dreaded national library. Though, not before I make a stop and eat at my favorite Chinese restaurant. Is it sad the owner knows me now? A bientot!

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French don’t fail me now

j-IMG_4778.jpg Today was my first day to go to the Bibliotheque Nationale Francois Mitterand, and well, it was quite an experience. I have to use the national library for the research that I am doing for a history class I’m taking. I’ve chosen to do the paper of Napoleon, and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I have no idea what period of Napoleonic history I want to study, or even where to really begin. But anyway, my experience with the national library was quite interesting today.

I started out by meeting my professor at the library around 2 PM. The whole place kind of looks like a fortress in my mind, and the grey gloomy weather didn’t make it any more inviting. We have to get credentialed in order to use the archives, so we take numbers and wait in line to be called. When my number is called I timidly poke my head around the corner and am greeted by the employee. She looked at me, said “Bonjour,” and then asked what I needed.

These are the times when I need my French skills the most, and it’s usually the same time that they go right out the window. The funny thing was, I didn’t really know what I needed from her. I assumed it was some kind of card or permission slip to use the archives, since I had all of these letters and documents assuring them that I wasn’t some crazy person.

So, I looked at her and confusingly said, “Umm … I would like umm … uh a card?” She then said, “Ok, well what kind of card?” To which I stupidly replied, “Uh … a library card?”

The whole conversation pretty much proceeded just as that. She told me that she could speak in English if I wanted her to, but I said no. I have this firm rule that since I am in France, I am going to speak French. I mean, I’m not going to learn anything by falling back on English all the time. She was very patient with me, and very nice actually. After a few minutes my nervousness wore away and my French became more fluid. I understood everything she said, which was good because she said a lot of really complicated and confusing things.

So the whole place kind of reminded me of the book 1984. It is SO big: the ceilings are about four stories tall and the whole place is kind of encased in concrete. You have to use your little access card for virtually everything, too. In order to get to the actual archives area, you have to go through two sets of giant steel doors. Then you go through this winding set of escalators until you finally reach the appropriate building. Of course you have to use your access card again to go through another two sets of giant steel doors, but once you get through them the whole atmosphere changes because suddenly you feel like you’re in an actual library. There are tables, stacks … windows.

Now, this being the national library, there is of course a ton of bureaucracy to get anything done. First of all, you have to reserve a desk in the library well in advance. When you get there, you can use the computers to reserve books. You’re not actually allowed to get the books (or other materials that you need) yourself. So, it takes them quite awhile to fulfill your request. Apparently you can take a nice long nap in the time it takes them to actually find and pull your request. When your request has been completed, a little green light on your desk begins to blink, which gives you permission to go to the librarian and ask for your item.

All in all, it was a very cool experience though. I feel a bit overwhelmed with the task ahead of me, but I’m confident that I’ll get the hang of it quickly. I’m going to go back Thursday I think, since there is a strike and I won’t be able to go anywhere else in the city. The library, as it happens, is conveniently located on the line 14 (the only line that works during strikes because it is automatic). So, I’ll just take a nice walk down to the St. Lazarre station (about 15 minutes from my house) and spend my day in the archives.

Time management, Paris style

So what else is new? Well, things are starting to calm down and return to a sense of normality. I’ve stayed in the last two nights actually. My French family must think I’m sick or something because I’ve gone out pretty much every night since I’ve been here! I have found it incredibly difficult to do my studies though (what else is new?). I knew it would be very hard to study here, I guess I just forgot how hard. Everything is so distracting. The city, your friends … there’s just so much to do! But I’m going to have to buckle down and get to work. After all, there is a real reason why I’m here and I have to remember that.

That’s why, tomorrow morning, I’m doing something very “unFrench.’ I’m waking up at 7 AM and getting some work done before my 10 AM class. Then, after class, I’m doing my laundry down at the laundromat and coming back to do more work. I’m not going to stick around here in the afternoon, though, I’m gonna go to Starbucks, I think. I know it sounds cliche, but I like Starbucks because I’m used to it and I don’t get distracted by things that are around me. Plus, they have plugs for my laptop (something that most cafes here don’t have). Of course, I guess I could just try one of the old cafes that I used to go to (if they’re even still around).

Anyway, point being, I’ve got to schedule my time. I had all these concerts/exhibitions that I wanted to see over the weekend and I didn’t see a single one of them! It’s just too easy to drop everything and hang out with friends instead! On the bright side though, I have been making some more French friends through my other French friends, which is always good!

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L’investiture de Barack Obama

J2.jpgIt’s a very strange thing to have to watch the inauguration of your new President from a foreign country.

This afternoon, my friends and I gathered at this little American cafe that was showing the complete Inauguration on tv. Suffice to say, it was quite an experience.

J1.jpg The cafe was really cool – completely decked out in American stuff but not overdone so that it seemed cheesy. And we got there just in time, too, because right after we arrived the people started flooding in to see the show. We ate tons, I mean TONS of food. But hey, how often do we get somewhat authentic American food in Paris?

I have to say, though, it was pretty cool to be in France during such a historic moment. Being there, amongst all my other compatriots, really made me feel proud to be an American. As Aretha Franklin sang the national anthem, so did everyone in the room. As our new President spoke, the place fell silent.

J3.jpgThe cafe was PACKED, with people even crowding around the windows outside trying to get a glimpse of the TV screen. We clapped, we laughed, and together we were Americans. I know it sounds dorky, but it was a really cool experience. All of us in my group agreed that we were very happy we made the effort to find a place to watch the full event.

So what else has been going on lately? Well, a bit of homesickness set in last weekend. I spent all day Sunday with my friend Jeremy and his family in the suburbs. I love his family; they are so welcoming and so warm, it really makes me happy that I’ve gotten to know such an intimate part of French life. While there I saw the Simpsons for the first time in French (his little brother was watching it). Quite interesting, I should say, haha.

His mom made us a huge lunch full of sliced meats and raclettes, a type of cheese that you melt in what I can only call very small frying pans. Afterward we went shopping in this giant mall that is dedicated only to furniture.

Well, the homesickness set in because I spent the whole day speaking French and being totally 100 percent submerged in the French culture. Therefore, I really began to miss my own culture. Don’t get me wrong, I love speaking French and have always enjoyed being a part of the culture here, but it does sometimes make you miss the things that you grew up with. As you see families go about their business it makes you really yearn for your own family, your own comfortable life.

BUT, that is the whole point of being abroad: to learn how to be independent. And certainly this is not the first, nor will it be the last, time that I have felt homesick.

As far as the job/internship search goes? Well, I can’t say I have any leads but I can say that I have begun actively searching and seeking them out. Hopefully this weekend I’ll be able to devote more time to it. I’m determined to stay here for the summer doing something, so I have to get this ball rolling.

Overall though, things have been going great. I’ve been very busy hanging out with old friends, my family, and making new friends. By the end of the day I’m usually exhausted, but a good, “I’ve accomplished something today” kind of exhausted.

Courses have started and they seem to be going well. My family continues to be amazing along with my friends that I’ve made here. I’m learning what it’s really like to live in Paris instead of just studying in the city. It’s truly different, and I’m so thankful that I get the rare opportunity to explore this aspect of French life.

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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!

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.

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.

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.

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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Finalement …

Well, I’m finally here. I’m actually back, and it’s all so … normal to me. It’s like I never left.

I got off the plane and got out of the airport via the train that drops you off at Gare du Nord. I couldn’t find anywhere where I could buy my ticket for the metro using a credit card, so I kinda snuck into the metro behind these other people who had lots of luggage and were using a gate. Then I lugged my luggage up 20 or so stairs … which was a total —–. I took the metro to Villiers where this really really nice man and his kid offered to help me with my things. Who says French people aren’t nice?

JamesBatchelor-F1019_6-174.jpg Then I walked down the street to the Valencourts’ apartment. The only thing that tripped me up was that I forgot for a few minutes which floor they lived on. But, after I figured it out I rang the doorbell and, sure enough, Mr. Valencourt opened the door and gave me a big hug. He said that they were so happy to have me back to their home. As he was cleaning up my room a bit before I got in there, I couldn’t help but notice that the Christmas card I sent them was placed along with all their others, and that the picture the three of us took together the last time I was gone was prominently placed above their computer desk.

And as for my French? Well sheesh … it’s all coming back. It’s weird actually. It’s like, almost as soon as I got into the country, my mind began to think in French. Suddenly I was saying everything in my head in French again. All my thoughts, all my reflections … it’s crazy. I was nervous about speaking to my French family again but I had no problem. How awesome!

And so now I’m sitting here, once again at my desk in my French family’s apartment … amazed at everything. I’m amazed that I’m back in Paris. PARIS! I can’t wait to see the Eiffel Tower again. I did it! I really did. Gosh …

This is totally amazing, it truly is. I get to spend the next five, six, seven, or eight months here (depending on what I can find to do here). INSANE.

Ok, time to unpack. I’m starving too. Did I hear someone mention crepes? Hehe.

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Here we go again

Well, here I am, once again waiting in the airport to go to Paris. Things were notably different this time though. The goodbyes had fewer tears and that gut-wrenching feeling of leaving my hometown was notably missing. However, I do have to say that it was really hard to leave my mother and my sister Jaimie at the security terminal today. I left, and then ran back and gave them one more hug. I looked at my mom and told her that I would see again soon when she visits Paris in the summer. She smiled, nodded, and continued to cry.

So, once again, I am completely on my own staying in France. Now that it’s all beginning to settle in, I’m really getting excited. I mean to think that in a matter of hours I will once again get to see the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Seine! It’s crazy really. In a matter of hours I’ll get to see my French family again and my friends!

I feel so much more confident this time about what I am doing, and why I am doing it. I don’t have this queezy feeling of uncertainty because I know exactly what I’m going back to. I’ve done this all before and I know exactly what to do. My first time in France was an adventure, a time to feel out what the country could possibly have in store for my future. This time around I’m on a mission: to set motions in place that will have a direct impact on my future.

I’m going to find a job, an internship, and I am going to really live in France. I will not be traveling all around the continent this time, but rather will stay mostly in Paris. I’m staying for the summer, completely on my own will, which will be really interesting. And in the midst of it all I will be looking at schools for my master’s degree so that I can begin applying and taking the GMAT when I get back to Dallas in the fall.

Wow … back to Paris. Back to the city of Lights. AHHH!!! I’m finally doing it again!!!

How lucky am I to be able to follow my dreams and live in one of the most amazing cities in the world? How in the world did I ever get to this point? It’s incredible, really it is. I just can’t believe how lucky I am.

All right, I’m off for now. Next time I write I’ll be in Paris again! A bientot!

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