Returning to Paris



The roar of the engine pierces the otherwise still morning—the dusk haze glazing the view out of the airplane window.

The plane gains momentum, breaking through the air as it cuts into the sky, tipping to its either side as if allowing us a final farewell. Or rather, a bientot. Because for Paris, it’s never completely goodbye.

I’m ok with leaving this time. Three days and back in Paris, and the romantic, picturesque city of the Paris I remember, remains. But for the first time, I stepped back no more than a visitor, tied by memories of my six months abroad in a city I never quite left behind.
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Paris looks no different, save the bare winter trees that replaced the lush greenery I had left last August. I’d forgotten about the pastel sheen that drapes the city, the gentle sounds of the daily flow of life. I’d forgotten how the metro reeks of urine and of the performers onboard the metro.

You lose touch of a city after a few months away; the fluidity of conversation in another language loses its ease, the expanse of vocabulary fades. And the purpose that once structured your day no longer exists.It's been four months since I left Paris and for the first time, I'm strongly aware that I'm no longer a part of this life, merely an observer onto a world I once had a place within. 
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I spent my three days visiting friends—catching up with my closest girlfriends from the summer, meeting for drinks and dinner with a handful of my French friends and a lunch date with a couple from my grammar class.


I revisited my summer homestay for afternoon tea with Madame and her friend. It was lovely catching up with Madame, the creases of her faces as animated as I remember, her hair less ruffled but her warmth no less genuine. My fluency in French isn’t what it once was, but I appreciated her patience as I hesitantly strung my thoughts into testy, French phrases. She took me through the apartment, introducing me to her current homestay student-- a boy from California just finishing his fourth and final month abroad. He lived in the room opposite to the one I’d spent my summer in-- the same one my former apartmentmates, Arien and then Fernanda had taken over.

People flow in and out of Madame's home. Each student has a unique story, yet there's a common thread that ties their purpose for the time spent within her home. Our context shapes our purpose and defines our connections. It's incredible how quickly connections change as life unfolds. 

Madame and I left her apartment together—she had errands to run before preparing dinner for the homestay student that evening. Why didn't I walk to the metro stop with her, she asked. But I shook my head, telling her I wanted to wander into the Longchamp store just around the corner. 

“They’ll go on sale in three weeks,” she said. “Why not stay?”
From L to R: Dinner with Mariene (British nanny), Lili (German-Jewish law student), Lara, Eric and Audrey (my first French friends)

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An elderly woman asked me for directions on the metro this morning.

"Ca va a Denfert?"

"Denfert?" I responded, racking my mental image of the Paris metro map. Line 4. Line 6. I had met Nathaniel there for coffee his last week in Paris. “Oui, bien sur,” I responded.

It used to be a mark of pride having someone approach you for directions. Four months away, the feeling hasn’t changed-- even if Paris is no longer home, however temporary of a home my time spent in the city had been.

It's strange to realize that the life I built during my six months abroad no longer applies as my purpose no longer exists; but my comfort within the city, my familiarity of their culture remains—allowing a base to work off of should it be a life I one day choose to return to.

Revisited Musee Rodin. One of my favorite art museums.
Connections change; it’s with each experience that we learn to adapt, understanding that nothing is permanent. It takes time to feel as if you fit within a context, patience as you slowly meld with the differences of a foreign culture—a lesson important to understand given change in context doesn’t only apply to life abroad.

Life post-graduation will also bring change—the purpose structured by college stops as we accept the diploma that ties our years of an undergraduate education. For then, it’ll be for us to carve a new place within our environment, seeking out a fresh purpose to structure our reason to stay. Unless we move on, adjusting as we create a new life somewhere else. 

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have lived a life abroad, grateful to have returned to Paris with at least an understanding for the culture that shapes the makeup of the city. It’s revitalized my desire to live abroad—to work in London, to move back to Paris. But I’d love to live in New York, test out San Francisco, visit Chicago, travel the world.

My experience in Paris didn’t end in August. But nor does it end now. I’m ok returning home, for this time, life in D.C. isn’t paused; Paris remains and my connections could one day be renewed, but for now I’ve got the responsibilities of my last semester to focus on. Who knows where the next four months will take me. Who knows where the connections will develop, where the purpose will be.

What I can be sure of, however, is that it all changes. Life refreshes. We adapt. And that's ok.

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