Emily Kowalik ’18
Assistant Opinions Editor
There is so much more to reflect upon this semester than there was the previous four semesters on campus. The time sped by quickly as usual, but this semester my most vivid memories aren’t of walking on the campus or taking lectures in classrooms, or spending time studying in my dorm room, but of memorable experiences gained in Paris.
Studying abroad in Paris has been a transformative experience. There is a profound joy to be found in realizing your capabilities. Knowing that you successfully took the plunge and are surviving life in a foreign country, surrounded by strangers, can be fulfilling. In my case, I began the semester as an inhabitant from a small town in the Midwest, who’d never been away from home longer than seven weeks. Now, four months later, I’ve traveled thousands of miles to a cosmopolitan city, where I live in an apartment with a host family and take part in a completely unfamiliar academic system. I have adapted to city life, a new university and I’ve gotten used to only occasionally speaking my mother tongue.
It’s sometimes disheartening to not be on the Smith campus, where I have my normal set of friends and a house atmosphere that often brings Smithies close together. However, I’ve made new friends and we share the adventures which arise through everyday experiences living in a foreign country.
I’ve had both struggles and upsets over these months in Paris, but it’s much easier to get over your problems when you’re surrounding by a tight-knit group of friends who are ever present and tripping over the same stumbling blocks. I could complain about the formality and aloofness of my French professors, or how the lady who works at the Brioche Doree down the street continually shuts me down when I try to order pain au chocolat, or how hard it is to transition from small town life to living in one of the world’s biggest cities or how I miss my friends and family. However, I can turn to the other Smithies here in Paris and we talk out our problems. Talking to someone in the same boat provides a sense of solidarity. Even overwhelming difficulties diminish when you’re part of a community bound together by the same challenges.
Best of all, I’ve also developed a deep pride in myself for taking full advantage of the endless variety of opportunities afforded me through living in Paris. Paris is a massive hub for transport; with all the buses, trains and planes available in the city it is a truly a portal to other marvelous places. I’ve taken advantage this ease of access to travel to many places in France and Europe – I’ve been to Giverny, Marseilles, Lille, Brussels, Chantilly and Edinburgh.
It’s incredibly uplifting to realize that you’ve been able to successfully accomplish a great move across the sea. It confirms that you’ve become an adult, that you’re able to survive and thrive a long way from being enclosed in the tiny Smith community and that you’ve made amazing strides towards gaining true self-sufficiency and independence.