When I left for Paris, as an opinionated, but timid, college Junior, I didn’t realize that Paris would change me so much. I figured that I would learn the language a bit more and have a great experience, but I came back different. I am not going to say that I came back a different person, because that is utterly cliché. But, in some ways, Paris really did change me. I learned so much from the people I met and from the culture that I was in. Paris has a way of making you see things differently. I came back on November 28th, with a solid grasp on who I am and a confidence that I had never seen in myself before. So, here are some short letters to the people and place that I learned from this semester: my host family, an amazing Professor, two sweet friends, some of the Frenchmen I went on dates with, the whole group of students who went with me, and the beautiful city of Paris.
To the family who adopted me as their daughter for three months, you showed me a generosity like no other. You included me in your family and genuinely helped me acclimate and adapt to my surroundings. Laurence, you taught me how to be the perfect French housewife while also having a career that you love. You had me help with meals and chores, and truly, I loved every minute of it. You were an amazing stand-in mother while I was hundreds of miles away from my own. André, you taught me to be much more confident and bold with my French speaking skills. Although your native language is British English, you did not once, in three months, speak a word of English to me. And you made sure that I only spoke French. I never would have improved so much without your daily questions in French over a breakfast of toast and coffee. So, to the both of you, thank you for teaching me so much and taking such good care of me in Paris.
To my Art History professor, I didn’t come to Paris excited about the art. I wanted to say that I had been to the art museums because that is what you do in Paris, but I just have never understood art. I still don’t sometimes, but I have a much larger appreciation for art after this semester. I remember wandering into the Musée d’Orsay only a few hours before an Art History exam and sitting in front of each painting or sculpture, reading over my notes for the test. It was a moment that I will never forget. For the first time since I was a little girl, I was learning something. Not just memorizing words to write down on a test, but truly learning. Not only were you an amazing professor, you were there to help our entire group with anything that we might have needed. You spent time not only teaching us, but getting to know us. Thank you for teaching me how to learn and showing me that I am loved.
To the boy I dated for three weeks and who joked that it was love at first sight, you taught me to believe in love again. I may not have actually fallen in love with you, but you showed me that even after heartbreak, love is a possibility. You taught me how to open my heart again after I had given up on love. You treated me with the utmost respect and kindness. You showed me how a man should treat me. You taught me that men can be charming and romantic in real life, even if it feels like a movie. You let me believe in the magic around me and gave me hope. Even though it didn’t work, you let me go with grace because I honestly believe that you did love me. And when you love something, you let it go. Thank you for filling my heart with hope.
To the two boys that I went on disappointing dates with, one of whom said, “when a woman says no, it doesn’t always mean no” and the other who got a bit too personal with the questions, you both taught me to stand up for myself. The two of you pulled me back into reality with your demeaning actions and words and showed me that life isn’t always magical. You showed me that French men may be charming, but they can simultaneously be the absolute worst. That probably isn’t what either of you meant to teach me, but I learned that some men, like yourselves, don’t know how to act like men. Instead they act like immature boys. Thank you, for, well, mostly nothing, but in some twisted way, thank you both.
To the boy who believed in himself, you taught me that sometimes the best outcome is friendship. You helped me see myself as a strong woman and you showed me how to be confident. You taught me that love isn’t easy and that you can’t give up. But, you also showed me that sometimes you have to let go to live. And most of all, you taught me how to be a friend. For that, I am forever grateful. See you in Paris in a couple years.
To the two girls who were a steady stream of encouragement and love, I couldn’t have done this semester without you. You two were always there for me. From helping me with hair and makeup crises to letting me yell about dumb boys, you were always there. I know I was crazy and annoying at times, but I am ever thankful for your love and support. I felt cared about and valued by the two of you and I couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you for giving me a safe place to talk, share, cry, and laugh. I love you two.
To the group of people who went on this adventure with me, I never knew how much you would feel like family. We learned together, laughed together, and grew together. I am thankful for each one of you. You challenged me to be a stronger and better person and you showed me love, acceptance, and friendship. I would not be in the place I am today, if it weren't for each of you beautiful humans. We had the adventure of a lifetime because we were strong together.
To Paris, the city of lights, you taught me to be myself. As I walked along your old cobblestone streets, I learned to be independent. When I sat in your gardens with a good book, I learned to be still and be happy being alone. Each time I practiced your beautiful language, I grew a little more confident. As I visited your boutiques and shops, I learned to not care what people think of me. When I sat in your cafés, I learned to enjoy everything and everyone around me. You taught me to hold my head up high and be confident in the woman that I have become. So, to the beautiful city of Paris, thank you for introducing me to some of my favorite things and teaching me so much. I will be back to visit you someday. Maybe I’ll even move back to live there.
I may not be a different person, but Paris changed me for the better. I’m a little more pretentious, a bit more independent, and a lot more confident now. I wouldn’t change those three amazing months in Paris for anything. Thank you to every single person I mentioned for teaching me life-long lessons of love, confidence, friendship, and hope.