Postcard from Paris
By Rebecca Hu '12, Contributing Writer
Salut from Paris to everyone at Amherst! For the past two months, I’ve been in France with the Sweet Briar College study abroad program, and I’ve been having an absolutely amazing time.

My host family is everything I could have asked for; my host mother works at a local daycare, while my host father is retired but is director of an amateur theatre troupe and an editor for a literary journal (and also collects comic books on the side). Needless to say, all three of us are constantly on the run, but my host parents somehow always manage to find time to sit down with me for dinner and put fresh flowers in my room. Our apartment is in the seventh arrondissement on the Left Bank, which is most notably home to the Eiffel Tower (in fact, it’s only a 15-minute walk away from where I live), as well as the Invalides.

My life here in Paris is certainly drastically different than my life at Amherst. For one, French universities generally don’t have a nuclear “campus” in the American sense; that is, any given university often has several academic buildings scattered across the city. After making the 40-minute metro commute to classes and back home on a daily basis, never again will I curse my misfortune at having to walk for 10 minutes to get from my dorm to Merrill (or more precisely, only when the ground is adequately soy-sauced). This has also been an interesting few months in Paris because of frequent strikes across the city, in heated opposition to recent legislation proposing that the retirement age for civil servants be raised from 60 to 62. The strikes have affected the availability of public transportation and resulted in some cancelled university classes, which can be frustrating but certainly isn’t any major inconvenience.

For the most part, life here proceeds as it normally does (i.e. awesomely). During the week, I volunteer as an English assistant for a middle school classroom and a high school classroom. This has been a very entertaining experience for me and also incredibly enlightening. I have learned, for example, that popular TV shows right now in France include “’Ow I Met Your Muzzer,” “Dextahr” and “’Eroes.” In return, I get to field questions such as, “Are parties at college in America as wild as they are in the movies?” and “Is it true that all Americans are obsessed with Justin Bieber?” Rest assured that I am making an effort to represent the U.S. in the best possible light, whatever that may mean.

Though I love to keep myself busy, I’ve had a significant amount of free time to wander around the city as well. Every Parisian neighborhood that I’ve been to is remarkably distinct and certainly worthy of much more exploration than a single semester allows; I certainly hope I’ll be back here again someday. One of my favorite neighborhoods is Saint-Michel, right next to Notre Dame. Its narrow streets are full of crêperies, small restaurants and bookstores, and not too far away, along the Seine, is a long row of mini outdoor bookshops (called bouquinistes) that sell rare old books, posters, postcards and the like. Most of the museums in Paris are free to French university students, so I’ve also whiled away many an afternoon meandering through the massive rooms at the Louvre, my current museum of choice. I suppose this means that my stay in Paris has thus far been fairly archetypal, something that I’m perfectly happy to admit.

One of the things that I love most about France is its amazing, impressive preservation of historical landmarks. During our two-week orientation in Tours (located in central France), I visited an impressive amount of chateaux, some dating back as early as the 11th century. In Paris, practically every building, statue or other landmark I see has some impressive significance dating back several centuries. Luckily, I’ve been learning to make some sense of it all with the help of a few history courses I’m currently taking, as well as the giant “condensed timeline of French history” comic strip that my host parents graciously affixed to my bathroom wall. (As I’ve been learning, French history can be quite scandalous and salacious. For example: King Henri II bestowed the Château de Chenonceau upon his long-time mistress, Diane de Poitiers, but after his death, his wife, Queen Catherine de Medici, was like — and I paraphrase — “Oh no you didn’t,” and installed herself at Chenonceau, forcing Diane de Poitiers to move out.)

Another fantastic aspect to being in Europe is how easily and cheaply one can travel. I have already spent a weekend in Provence (in southern France) with several friends in my program, as well as a weekend in Italy with Eugene Golubitskiy ’12; I also plan to visit the Netherlands (with Eugene and Julie Keresztes ’12) and England in the upcoming weeks. Nevertheless, despite my worldly wanderings, I still have a soft spot in my heart for my friends and family back in the States. Luckily, there is a strong contingent of Amherst students and alumni in Paris this semester, and the ubiquitous usage of Skype, Facebook and e-mail allow me to stay in touch with those who are not (and to whom I direct my sincerest apologies for the increasing frequency of my lapses into Franglish, a sure sign that my French is improving tandis que my English atrophies). I will be roaming the hallowed halls of Amherst again soon enough, but in the meantime, I am growing alarmed that I have only a few months left in this absolutely magical city, and I plan to make the most of them!

À bientôt!

Issue 08, Submitted 2010-11-03 19:13:32