Blog Goes Abroad: Expectations vs. reality

Mary Kate and Ashley circa 1999, my Parisian spirit animals.

Mary Kate and Ashley circa 1999, my Parisian spirit animals.

I remember the first time I saw Paris. I was 7 years old and, like any girl born in the early ’90s, a huge Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen fan (before New York Minute came out and ruined their straight-to-VHS career definitively.) I had just gotten my hands on their latest VHS, Passport to Paris7-year-old me longed to have a baguette fight on the Champ-de-Mars on the back of Ethan Peck‘s scooter. Needless to say, I’ve grown a bit since 1999, but I still had some dreamy ideas about what my semester in Europe would be like (baguettes and Ethan Peck on a scooter included). However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that most some of my fantasies would never come to be. But it’s okay, baguettes are great consolation food.

Expectation: Immerse myself in the culture, act like a local.
Reality: Conform to buying 2€ wine and calling it a day.

I had a very specific image of what my semester abroad was going to be like: sit in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant (because sidewalk cafés are sooo overrated!), drink house wine, and converse with my neighbor in their native language. Maybe I watched Amélie one too many times before boarding the plane, but the idea of becoming unrecognizable as a foreigner in this country seemed both romantic and plausible. However, I forgot the very obvious fact that I lack basic social skills, and freeze every time someone speaks to me in a language other than English. My “immersion” has consisted of putting on my headphones on the metro to pass as any other angsty 20-year-old, and picking up a bottle of supermarket-brand wine on the way home, speaking to no one throughout the commute.

Expectation: Make local friends.
Reality: … Working on it.

I’m cross-registered at two universities, each with its own different vibe. One is made up of predominantly rich, white Parisians who are too busy chain-smoking to talk to me. The other is made up of every other kind of person who still is too busy chain-smoking to talk to me. I don’t smoke, and have no interest in starting. However, going out for a cigarette during the mid-class pause is where people go to mingle. So I’m at a moral crossroads: to smoke and make friends, or to preserve my lungs and spend the next four months all by my lonesome, Anglophone self? Le sigh. Continue Reading