The days prior to arriving in Paris were full of warnings that the experience would be confusing, chaotic, and strange. It would be like landing on another planet, they said. A far cry from London and an even further cry from America. The trip under the English Channel, with nothing but darkness and occasional flashing lights beyond the windows, boded ominously. Apprehension of drowning amongst unknown words and customs plagued my mind.
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Our drive into Paris gave us a taste of city life from the safety of our tour bus. Through the huge windows I could see traffic stacked bumper to bumper in narrow lanes, drivers darting skillfully through intersections with swiftness only a true Parisian could have. Motorcycles weaved dangerously in and out of traffic, pedestrians squeezed between buses in the middle of the road. For someone from a small Missouri town, the big city was terrifying. Be vigilant, our tour guide warned. Don’t get pickpocketed. Make sure you get off the train at the right stop. Cross the road only when the light is green. The list of things to remember, to watch for, to be conscientious of continued to grow, fueling the anxiety settling over our tour group. How would we survive, when there were days to go in our European tour and we were already so overwhelmed?
But . . . I wasn’t. Despite being assured I would be terrified, stressed, and confused, I felt none of these things. My French, though rusty, proved enough to speak and read signs to get the information I needed. I could translate words and phrases for my fellow travellers. Navigating the Paris metro was a breeze thanks to the semester we spent learning about the subways in French class. As I moved among crowds of Parisians going about their daily lives, there were no feelings of displacement or anxiety. In fact, the opposite was true. I felt calm, relaxed, confident. All these people around me were here in the moment, going about their business with their own lives to attend to. I was part of a bigger picture, and rather than feeling daunted, I felt like I belonged. Paris did not feel alien; it felt like home. Even in the crowded streets, fending off pesky vendors trying to sell miniature Eiffel Towers while guarding against the possibility of pickpockets, there was nothing ominous about the city. I could either resist the power of the city, or I could be a part of it. The simple realization that I was one piece in a picture made of millions of individual parts created an intense feeling of belonging. I was unique and yet the same as those around me, connected by the collective agenda of humankind to simply exist in my own individual experience. I made the most of this trip by allowing myself to be completely and utterly swept up in the lives and language of Paris. Because of this epiphany, the trip was a complete success. My three days in Paris flew past in a blur of excitement and wonder, and as we boarded the train to leave, I was sure this wouldn’t be the last time I would see the City of Lights.
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