June 18, 2024

Tartan Alumna on Realities of Experiencing Paris

Streets of Paris, France. Courtesy of Erin Hylen.

By Erin Hylen ’19

My dream of living in France came true two months ago.

I still distinctly remember the moment when I first discovered this dream of mine: I was sitting in my first-ever French class at eleven years old completely enchanted as my teacher showed us photos of Paris and talked about his own experience there.

I marveled at the intricate architecture of the buildings, at the beautiful but hard-to-master French language and at the fact that there was a country where people ate baguettes and cheese everyday (I can now attest that this is 100% true).

But, I’m not going to lie—when I first stepped into my new room in my host family’s house, I was terrified. I thought to myself, “how on earth am I going to do this for the next four months?”

I had spent literally ten years waiting for this moment, but when the moment finally came, I was blindsided. I knew that culture shock would hit me without a doubt, but before leaving I had expected to only feel its effects later, after my excitement had worn off.

I’d also thought that the culture shock would manifest itself through the very distinct and obvious differences between life in France and life in America; but, to my surprise, it was the little differences that hit me the hardest, because I didn’t expect them.

It might sound weird, but things like waking up at 8:30 am to a pitch-black sky, having dinner really late (usually starting at 8pm and typically lasting until 9:30pm), adjusting to the formal nature of French life that exists even within private households and navigating differences in the French educational system—amongst many other things—really threw me off at first.

But soon, my fear was replaced with wonder as I got to know the city and people of Paris.

I love that each street in Paris provides a seemingly endless supply of cafés, and that each has its own atmosphere completely different from the last.

I love the enthusiasm and pride with which the Parisian people describe their way of life, and how willing they are to share it with those who don’t know it.

I love discovering the history of the different arrondissements, and I love being able to go and wander about them.

I love that the French people see food as an experience to share with one another and how they truly invest in one another when sharing a meal, spending hours at a time together.

I love the hidden gems of Paris—museums, restaurants, streets, and shops—that aren’t as well-known, but are just as miraculous as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc du Triomphe, and the Louvre.

Two months ago, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through four months in France. Now, I don’t know how I’m ever going to leave.

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