When I was ten years old, my mother told me, “When you’re twelve and Andrew is ten, we’ll go to Paris.” When I was twelve years old, she told me, “We’ll go when you’re fourteen.” And when I was fourteen, she said, “We’ll go when you’re sixteen, I promise.” That time, she meant it.
My aunt, my mother’s sister, had moved to Paris after falling in love with a Frenchman while studying abroad in college. She had lived there since before I was born, and the only time we got to see her, my uncle, and my cousin, was approximately once a year, sometimes longer. What’s more, they had always come to us. No one in my family had ever seen where they live, until my mom, my brother, and I hopped across the pond last summer. I set out not knowing what to expect, my only images of France being from movies and television. I knew the Eiffel Tower was there, and the Louvre, and edible snails, but other than that, my knowledge of France was very limited.
When we arrived, we were jet-lagged, disoriented, and beyond exhausted. However, when my aunt met us at the airport and we travelled to her house via metro, it was an instant energy boost. Everything-the buildings, the graffiti, even the wildflowers growing along the road-was so picturesque that I could hardly believe it was real. When we arrived in the town of Massy, where my aunt lives, I still couldn’t believe I was really in France. Her neighbor came out to greet us, wearing a striped shirt and carrying a loaf of bread she had just bought at the market. “Seriously? Is this real life?” were the only things running through my mind.
Over the next two weeks, we jam-packed more history into our trip than I’ve ever learned in school. We went to the Louvre and saw the famous Mona Lisa, climbed all 387 winding steps to the top of Notre Dame, seemingly travelled back in time to the medieval town of Mont Saint-Michel, visited Claude Monet’s home in Giverny, and, of course, saw the spectacular view of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower. But perhaps the most powerful moment was travelling to Normandy, to Omaha and Utah beaches. Certainly, these two spots were perhaps the most pivotal locations of World War II, but I felt an especially powerful connection to those beaches. My grandfather had served in World War II and had stormed those beaches in the hours following D-Day. I really felt like I was walking in his footsteps, and the experience was not only overwhelming, but extremely humbling; I realized how many sacrifices had been made by my grandfather and many other soldiers to give me the opportunity to stand in that specific spot in that specific point in time.
In the summer of 2013, for two weeks in July, my life was changed. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. The time spent in France opened my eyes to a different culture, different people, and different lifestyles; for example, I learned that dinner in France was not something to be taken lightly-prepare yourself for two hours of sitting at the table and at least a five course meal! But I also learned things about myself: I realized how fortunate I was to be able to go on such an amazing trip, and how important experiencing different cultures is to personal growth and development. My trip to France was everything I hoped for and more, and I cannot wait to go back!
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