By Samantha Hilyer, Editor-in-chief
“Travel while you’re in college” is a phrase I have heard repeatedly throughout my academic career. And when I was still an underclassman, I thought I would have two full years to travel if I wanted to. However, as we are all aware, those years would not be full of traveling. But the pandemic has certainly taught me not to take opportunities—or life—for granted, so when I saw the Americans in Paris class, I knew this class was my final chance, as a senior, to study abroad.
Throughout the semester leading up to spring break, there were several times when it appeared the trip may abruptly be canceled due to COVID-19, so when no cancellation occurred, the day of the flight to Paris, France, felt unreal. However, after seven agonizing hours of sitting and enduring two airplane meals, the reality of the situation began to sink in—we were in Paris, the city of light and love.
One of the biggest culture shocks I personally experienced in Paris was the hostel we stayed at, called “The Generator.” Hostels are generally known for their inexpensive group lodging, and while “hostel” is only one letter away from being a “hotel,” I can confirm that it is not like any American hotel I had been to in structure or experience. However, the lobby and the café/bar were great places to meet new people and fellow travelers.
Another culture shock I experienced was the amount of walking expected of us—we averaged 10 miles one day—and the amount of public transportation available. But I was pleasantly surprised at how easy navigating Paris on foot or by Metro could be.
As a class, we went on several walking tours to explore the city, including a tour of Montmartre. We also took an exquisite day trip to the outskirts of Paris to explore the chateau of Chantilly—a grandly preserved castle.
Each day, usually after a tour by foot or a trip to a museum such as the Louvre—home of the Mona Lisa—we were given free time to explore as we wished. During that free time, a group I was with went to the Eiffel Tower and took an elevator—although we debated taking the stairs—to the top of the tower where we could see the city, aglow with vibrant nightlife.
We also frequented several different cafes to sample food in our spare time. While I did try escargot, my favorite meal was the avocado toast I had while sitting in an outside, heated café covered in picturesque blooms. However, I am convinced that any meal in Paris inherently tastes better than it would at home simply because it is being eaten in a beautiful city.
For all its magnifique attractions, Paris also had its ugliness like any other city. The dangers of pickpockets—an announcement that was routinely heard on the Metro—the amount of homeless people huddled on the sidewalks wrapped in blankets, the protests and the police all made for an uneasy atmosphere at times.
However, Paris was still a wondrous experience, and I would love to escargot back again one day.