Paris is a moveable feast : la vie d’une étudiante en échange

Ernest Hemingway once said of Paris that if you are lucky enough to have lived here as a young man or woman, it would stay with you for the rest of your life no matter where you went – for Paris is a moveable feast. These words resonate with me strongly as I sit here, attempting to recollect my thoughts and experiences from my month (already!) in Paris. I am not a European. I live and study in Canada, but I chose Paris because I always thought my education would be incomplete without some form of cultural exchange. It was the allure of walking down Boulevard Saint Germain on the Rive Gauche, seeing centuries of history splayed out before my eyes that convinced me that I needed to do this. Ultimately, metropolitan life in Toronto cannot beat the winding cobblestone streets, animated cafés and unique quartiers of Paris. My first month here has been full of giddy excitement: of magnificent museums, bustling cafés, strolls by the Seine and un petit peu of studying. I have an entire year to be at Sciences Po, but it constantly feels as though there is no time, and I must see everything, and I must see it all right this very second! From wandering around adorable used bookstores named ‘Mona Lisait’ to frequenting student bars in the Bastille, there hasn’t been a single moment I regret.

Le Panthéon / photo : Sheena Singh
Le Panthéon / photo : Sheena Singh

Of course, it would be utter lies for me to tell you that it’s all really this easy. Anyone who has ever tried to live abroad knows that while these glamorous moments are the stories you will take back to your colleges, countries and homes, there are a lot more moments that are unnerving. I was scared when I first got here – it’s not quite so simply for nearly 1300 of us to have decided to just casually move overseas for a semester, or a year. I will admit that I have never lived alone, which made me all the more apprehensive initially. Learning how to cook, clean, buy groceries: you all know this list of mundane things we need to do, and I’m sure not a single one of you enjoys it either. While it is very different from life in a University of Toronto dormitory, I decided early on that this was the challenge that needed to be overcome. All it takes, I thought to myself, is a lot of willpower, openness to a new way of life, and a little bit of adaptability. One month later, I think I’ve succeeded, and perhaps a lot of this is due to Sciences Po itself.

When I arrived in Paris, I vowed to myself (like many of you, I’m sure) that I would not be a tourist. I would not be a tourist. I said it over and over again like a mantra. Sciences Po has been the best institution for me, because there is no better way than studying in Paris to fill the gap between visitor and vraie parisienne. It has enriched and deepened my academic interests, and my professors have all been captivating, extremely intelligent, and challenging. Through the small, intimate class settings and evening beers at Le Basile, I have met a number of people I would never have known – people not just from France but also from Brazil, Russia, Chile, Germany and countless other countries. The BDE and student life at Sciences Po have ensured that I see the city through the eyes of a student who lives here, and am as comfortable as I would be in my hometown.

When I first arrived in Paris, there were two distinct sides to my story: the glamorous, and the mundane. Little by little, with the help of my school and the people I met there, the city is becoming a part of me. The street signs are becoming more familiar; my French is becoming more relaxed and natural; and the Parisians seem less and more accommodating every day. At the end of this year, I know that I will be able to say from experience that Paris is, indeed, a moveable feast.