Cramped and weary from our seven hour flight, we stepped onto foreign ground fatigued and in disbelief. Twenty students including myself had embarked on a week-long voyage to Paris to immerse ourselves in French language and culture. One can imagine our surprise when the first native French speakers we heard were of Asian descent and our ACIS tour guide, Amber, had a British accent. Minutes after arrival, our initial stereotype of French people had been shattered. Departing the airport, we regained childlike innocence, excitedly peering out the bus window, fascinated by our ability to read billboards. Neglecting our need for sleep, we immediately launched our sightseeing expedition. After window-shopping and eating our first crepes, we finished the night with an extravagant, three-course French meal and began our ascent of le Tour Eiffel. We were accomplished climbers with wobbly legs and smiling faces, experiencing our visit to the fullest extent. Although our bodies swayed from side to side, ready for sleep, our minds were awake, anticipating the adventure of a lifetime.
Previously, our teachers spoke of le Tour Eiffel, l’Arc de Triumph, la Notre Dame, le Louvre, les Catacombs and other monuments, but they had been simply notes copied down on paper. Physically being there, history came alive; l’Arc de Triumph brought images of Napoleon and the endless, intricately displayed bones of the catacombs reminded me of the dreadful Bubonic Plague. Paris transformed from a name on a map into a thriving city which served as a modern icon as well as a historic embodiment.
While the famous monuments proved impressive, the unplanned moments resonate most strongly. To this day, I can picture the night our tour guide took us to a Jewish section of Paris with several cultured restaurants. After dining in smaller groups, two other students and I left in search of the metro. We wandered for a few minutes before realizing that we were lost in Paris with twenty minutes until curfew. Fortunately, our French skills were sufficient to ask “Excuse me, where is the metro?” Several strangers responded with vague directions, and eventually we caught a glimpse of the neon sign in the distance. Running on adrenaline, we raced towards the unfamiliar metro station, where we redirected ourselves. Flickering lights and spontaneous jolts added to our anticipation until we exited the metro station and sprinted to the hotel with seconds to spare. Two days into the trip, we had gotten lost in a foreign place but miraculously navigated our way back to the hotel without the slightest trace of fear or uncertainty. We were foreigners, but we were not culturally lost.
Our traveling group grew closer each night as we opened our hotel windows, poked our heads outside, and spoke to students in surrounding rooms. One night, a student began strumming The General by Dispatch on his guitar as another student accompanied him with vocals. Before long, our harmonious voices developed a peaceful presence on the street. Unexpectedly, a man in an apartment across the street opened his window, beckoned his wife, took out his phone and recorded our performance. We were American tourists traveling to Paris in awe of the foreign city, yet by some turn of events, Parisians found us fascinating. Over three thousand miles away from home, the cuisine and language are unfamiliar, yet we are surprisingly similar. As human beings, we are interested in the unknown, and this curiosity draws us together. We may be citizens of different countries, but we are all members of humanity, living in a multicultural world.
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