My first week in Paris could not have gone any better. I have a fantastic host family, the metro system is incredibly simple, and I am already starting to learn Paris from a local’s point of view. Even though I have participated in around-the-clock activities, I know I have only scratched the surface of what this incredible city has to offer.
When I arrived in Paris on Monday, I was operating on about zero minutes of sleep. In a state of exhaustion and confusion, I was shocked when I looked outside – it was pitch black. The sun had not started to crack the Parisian horizon. I checked my watch, and it confirmed I had indeed arrived at 7:45 in the morning. Many people do not realize how far north Paris really is, and so the sun rises a lot later here than back on the east coast of the United States. Luggage in tow, I hopped in a taxi and sped towards my next adventure.
I had not truly thought about what I signed up for until the taxi dropped me off at my host family’s front door. Studying abroad takes months to prepare for, and it always seems in the future. For me, it was always, “Oh yeah I’m leaving for Paris in a week,” without ever giving it more thought than the date of my flight. However, standing in the streets of Paris, with two gigantic suitcases, and many flights of stairs to climb, my new experience became more than a date on the calendar. It became my reality.
After our initial introduction, my host mother showed me the key places in my current neighborhood. We walked to the grocery store, the metro stop and a cellphone store so I could purchase a SIM card. I have never walked so much as I do here, but I do not necessarily realize it. Small walks like to the metro or to school eventually add up. Also, the metro system is incredible. For about $80 per month, you receive unlimited access to all public transportation within the twenty arrondissements and île de france. For example, I have the option to take the train to Disneyland Paris, Charles de Gaulle airport and Versailles with this monthly payment.
The first monument I visited in Paris was The Eiffel Tower. Since Paris has relatively strict zoning laws about the height of their buildings, the tower dominates the skyline. Unfortunately, the very top was closed the day I visited, and I think it was because of the wind. However, myself and some other students walked to Trocadero, which is on the opposite side of the Seine. The views from this museum are breathtaking. We arrived right when the sun was starting to set, and the Eiffel Tower looked majestic with a pink sky in the background.
IES Abroad does a fantastic job of providing activities for students to explore their city, and this past weekend was the first of many of these events. Students were able to sign up for a walking tour of street art in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris, and I did not hesitate to add my name to the list. This walking tour highlighted a side of Paris I never knew existed. While Paris does offer countless historic museums, this tour of contemporary art was something totally different. In this neighborhood, many Parisian artists create mesmerizing pieces of art with spray-paint. While this form of art is technically illegal in Paris, the city is somewhat lenient because the works are so impressive. The tour guide was able to provide insider information that I would not have gathered on my own. Modern art is not one of the first things most people think of when dreaming of Paris, but this tour showed a vibrant, lively side to the city that I would not have discovered on my own.
I cannot imagine my first week going any better. Every student in my program is incredibly open and nice, IES Abroad has provided countless opportunities to immerse the students in Paris and the country of France, and I have a fantastic relationship with my host family. As I write this, so many fond memories I have already created continue to come to mind, but it would be impossible to list them all. I have to constantly remind myself that I am here for multiple months, not merely one week. I am curious to see if some minor cultural differences become second nature by the end of the studies. This opportunity has given me the chance to see Paris as a resident, and I hope I can show you a different side of the City of Light.
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<p>My name is Jonathan Skewes, and I am an advertising major at Pennsylvania State University. I have studied French for six years, and it is one of my true passions. I also enjoy playing soccer and discovering different cultures and countries.</p>