When I walked off my plane at Charles De Gaulle airport, the first feeling that washed over me was disbelief. Inclined escalators without steps, signs written in French, and a very large airport crowded with other travelers greeted me at eight in the morning. I hadn’t slept for twenty-four hours because of time zone differences. We only had an hour and a half of darkness during the whole seven-hour flight. Disorientation crept up on me almost instantly. Being sleep-deprived and in a completely new country where one feels quite culture-shocked and displaced does that to a person. Luckily, I was able to meet up with one of my housemates, which eased my nerves substantially. Together, we found the taxi sign and took a taxi to our apartment. It would be reasonable to conclude that we instantly crashed and rested upon arrival, but we didn’t. The best thing to do when travelling to different time zones is to force yourself to stay awake until the time you’d normally go to sleep. Against my heart’s desires, I stayed awake an additional fourteen hours but woke up the next day at the time I’d normally wake up at home: seven in the morning. But my battle with adjusting to France didn’t stop there.
On the first full day of being in Paris, I got sick from the combination of ninety-degree weather and foods that were made differently from foods in the US. This is a normal reaction to being in a new country, as your body needs to adjust to the food and even water. In addition to my stomach being angry at the change, I was homesick. As the baby of the family, I’ve always been protected and rarely travel anywhere without my mom. Homesickness is also a normal reaction if you’re close with your family and are used to being dependent on them. Add on the fact that I had a full day of activities from eight am to eight pm, and you have a young woman who is overwhelmed without having any time to rest. But it’s all a learning experience that will teach me how to be independent, an important life skill to have as a soon-to-be twenty-year-old. I won’t be in my teens anymore after that and will need to start becoming more of an adult. Despite all of these emotions running through me, I’m alive — and Paris has slowly started to feel more welcoming.
Later during our first day in Paris, we took a boat tour of the Seine river, where we saw a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and numerous historical buildings that stood tall in the sweltering heat. On the ride, we experienced the essence of why Paris is called the “city of love.” Two elderly couples danced on the side of the river with a small crowd cheering them on, couples cuddled together with picnic boxes beside them, and the river itself was sparkling from the sun with beauty. The next day, we visited Giverny in Normandy, where there was an exhibit that featured Claude Monet’s home, impressionistic artworks, and beautiful gardens.
Sometimes, one must endure hardships before that hard work is rewarded. Those two trips definitely felt rewarding. Imagine all of the beauty and interesting things I would have missed out on if I had chosen to back out of this program. I’m still adjusting to this new environment, but soon enough, Paris will feel like a second home to me.