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  • Writer's picturetatum van dam

paris, je t'aime

If there is one thing that anyone knows about or associates with me, it is that I studied abroad in Paris my freshman year. And for those of you that didn’t know, now you do. I peaked in Paris. There, I said it before you could. Maybe you thought it, or have been thinking it, but I still said it first. You can’t blame me though - it was my “first” for many things; traveling internationally, attending university, and living on my own, among other things that I will not disclose. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't one of the best years of my life. It’s always a topic of conversation, and probably always will be. Which, quite frankly, I am totally okay with.

There are other people who I studied abroad with that don’t feel as strongly about Paris as I do. Maybe they were homesick, or maybe they just had a different experience overall. Maybe they don't enjoy walking from one place to another, or maybe ils ne parlent pas Français. Perhaps they are allergic to gluten and grapes, or perhaps Paris just wasn’t their place. And that’s fine. Not everyone has the same experience abroad, and it’s up to you to make the most of the seemingly long, but minimal time you have.

What most people don’t realize are the reasons why I have such heavy emotions towards Paris - it is not because of Paris itself. It’s not the delicious pain au chocolats, baguettes, and cheap wine available at nearly all hours of the day. It’s not the Eiffel Tower sparkling at every hour from twilight to darkness, and it’s not the beautiful parks and gardens. It is not the gypsies parked at each monument trying to sell you four miniature Eiffel Towers for one euro, and it’s not constantly being surrounded by the French language. It is not walking along the Seine, and it is not the spiral staircases and tiny elevators one can only attempt to fit in. It is not the places or material items found in the city, but more so what experiencing those places and items have taught me.

This beautiful city has made me realize my worth; that I am enough, and that people can either accept me as I am, or, alternatively, leave me as I am. I’ve learned it’s extremely important to make sure you are happy with yourself before trying to make others happy; kind of like how on airplanes they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others (my deepest apologies - this is too morbid of a metaphor, but it kind of gets my point across). You must become your own person before being your own person with somebody else. Back in Paris, I made the mistake of placing my happiness in another person. Honestly, I’m glad I did. Because now, I know what my version of “happiness” isn’t.

This beautiful city holds some of my fondest memories with people I still love, once loved, and will love. Life is one big puzzle. And it’s insane how this seemingly inevitable puzzle has it’s weird ways of piecing itself together on its own. How I met some of my lifelong friends in a foreign country across the world despite the fact we all originate from cities very close to one another still leaves me in awe. If I had never made the choice to go abroad, I wouldn’t have met some truly incredible people. These individuals have heavily influenced some of my grandest life choices, and these people have made me feel accepted. These people are more than just friends to me; they are family. And the fact that we just so happened to come across each other in a city filled with “amour” is more than just a coincidence. The ultimate test of true friendship is being able to travel with one another, and safe to say, we have all passed this test.

This beautiful city has changed me for the better. Yes, I am completely aware of the whole “studying abroad changed me” stereotype, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. Immersing myself into a foreign place with a foreign language and foreign people forced me out of my comfort zone. Being abroad challenged my beliefs, and in doing so, put me into the shoes of others and see the world with more empathy. Being abroad caused me to become a more independent, confident person, and battle my Achille’s heel that is my social anxiety. I am able to make choices with little to no hesitation, I am able to understand other people, I am able to move with confidence, and ultimately I am able to justifiably say that being abroad did change me and I really don’t care if people mock me for saying that.

This beautiful city has taught me to live in the “now”. To take life day by day, and to realize that life truly is unpredictable. The amazing thing about being in an area you are not familiar with is that you never know what to expect. Some of my best memories in Paris were the memories that happened in the spur of the moment, along with the planned moments that took several unplanned turns. Spontaneity is important, and realizing that it is important is equally as important. People are often too focused on the future; whether it be far or near, that they forget to live in the moment. Life doesn’t stop for anyone, and time doesn’t stop for anyone. It’s up to you choose how you would like to spend your time on this beautiful planet. Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous. The only thing holding you back is yourself.

Safe to say, it’s not just the berets and baguettes. There’s just something about Paris that is so… magical. I can’t even begin to formulate it into words. Paris is the city of love, and as I’ve said before - it’s safe to say that I have fallen for it. I might not have found love with someone else, but I found love with the most important person one could find love in: myself.

So, to the people who wonder why I love Paris so much - this is why.

What is your version of ‘Paris’?

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