Day 2 in Paris, I decide to grab a quick bite to eat at a Vietnamese place in the 2nd arrondissement. I finally make it through the line and ask the Vietnamese man for a sandwich and a “nem au canard, s’il vous plaît.” In a thick accent making his question unintelligible, he responds, “Rechauffé?” Although I can’t make out what he says, I clearly see all the solemn French people behind me waiting for me to speak. I answer “non” very seriously to not seem ignorant. I come to realize what he asked as I walk down the street munching on a frozen nem. I would have loved my food warm…
Thankfully, I’ve made progress since my first days here in Paris, but these situations define me nonetheless. These instances stand as small hurdles that I overcame, indicating my integration into daily life. Now I speak to that same Vietnamese man at least once a week, sometimes eating lunch with him, and I always leave with my food warm. As time has passed, my ability to comprehend, to communicate, and to build relationships has progressed as well. From my experience, much of this refinement happens over a glass with my host parents or a cup of coffee with some French students who found me and my attempts at acting like a native endearing and entertaining.
Academically, this semester I am taking three courses at the Institut d’Études Politiques, mainly just called by its short hand Sciences Po, to satisfy requirements for my major in world politics; this opportunity is allotted only to yearlong students of the Hamilton in France program. The courses offered at Sciences Po include subjects ranging from the abstract such as “Theories of International Relations” which is a large lecture class with an associated TA session, to the very specific and concrete such as “Dynamics of the Global Economy: Macroeconomic Management to Structural Reforms.” I am enrolled in both and can say that the student body pulls from every continent and affords students an opportunity to interact with a diverse population of individuals unified by a common interest in politics with a uniquely French perspective. As a native Spanish speaker, I found the opportunity to speak the language I spoke back home in Miami with students from places like Colombia and Puerto Rico invaluable. It provided a much-appreciated sense of home. I can’t say, though, that I find the weekly 8AM TA session thrilling, but the red-eyed French graduate student with coffee stains on his scarf leading the session doesn’t either – we empathize with one another.
The IEP also provides multiple opportunities to participate in extracurricular conferences, clubs, and sports ranging from discussions on bioethics to boxing classes in the 6th arrondissement. These types of events, sprinkled in with the HiF excursions to other gorgeous areas of France like Marseille and Burgundy as well as the pervasive beauty and activity of Paris itself have made my time abroad extremely exciting and like nothing else I have ever experienced. Paris brings the old world together with the new world in a way I have never seen, mixing modernity with antiquity, producing all around beauty. Even if you want to do nothing all day but sit at a café, a perfectly French cultural activity, nothing feels like something and you will find yourself happily content. I am 6 months into my 9 month stay, and I can say with certainty that I made the right decision staying here for the year.