I must admit, a single tear may or may not have silently slid down my cheek as I wrote this. Just how corny is it to say that Paris really does have a certain, “je ne sais quoi” about it?
My time in Paris as a Greenheart Travel French language student was unparalleled to anything I believe I will ever experience, and reflecting on it actually reawakened the overwhelming, beautiful, surreal rush that I experienced daily while immersed in the French culture.
I miss it often and frequently catch myself replaying moments in my mind. Walking through Paris sometimes evokes confusing emotions. This shouldn’t be taken negatively. The streets are bustling and lively, yet with a quiet, whispered undertone, as if the city wants you to lean in to hear its secret. The first time strolling through it feels dreamy, like warm viscous honey, then calculated and crisp, sophisticated.
Parisians somehow appear understated yet bold, leisurely and rushed. The sun doesn’t go down until around 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m., as if the city is letting you hold onto the day a bit longer.
When I think of my favorite memories, my brain flashes to the smaller moments.
I recollect hilariously awkward incidents, such as having a complete mental block and greeting someone with merci instead of bonjour, agonizing over how to pronounce yogurt or yaourt when ordering gelato for the first time in French, or having to use Google translate to understand a certain phrase my wonderful host mother said.
I think of the short lived tradition of going to le supermarchet with two fellow Greenheart Travel girls after dinner every night in our host town of Bondoufle, France. How we’d peruse the aisles for French chocolates yet leave with Very Bad Kids (the French version of Sour Patch Kids), and pamplemousse juice.
My mind then ricochets to Lysiane, aka “wonderwoman.” She was our teacher, tour guide, friend, and total boss. Her petite frame was not to be underestimated. With a wave of her hat barely visible above the crowd she was off. Masterfully leading us from excursion to excursion, zipping up the stairs while the rest of us supposedly young and fresh, energizer bunny teenagers having to stop for the escalator because our feet hurt.
Her love for her job was evident. The moments we had to breathe in between trying to keep up with Lysiane were often on the metro, the veins of France. Although typically crowded and musty, on those striped, sweaty seats I felt the most connected to the city. It let my inquiring mind have a glimpse inside a true Parisian’s daily life, if not only for seconds at a time.
It made me feel both connected and clueless. Looking out the window, miles of French architecture and art were on display. A backdrop not taken for granted.
Graffiti paints the town and I marveled at the art found virtually everywhere. Much of France’s architecture has unpredictable tendencies that are a bit off kilter in a uniquely beautiful way not as prevalent in the United States. The old and new elements mesh together almost asking to clash, yet are somehow in perfect harmony.
The many forms of art in Paris, of course, included museums, and visiting the Louvre was most definitely a highlight for me. The pristine, intricate interior was art in itself, so looking up to see the world famous ceiling paintings was unreal.
My absolute favorite memory was entering the Eiffel Tower. Nothing represents France quite like the Eiffel, so to be standing on the renowned wrought iron, gazing up at the structure’s steel bolts disappearing into the sky, and walking down the steps surrounded by latticework like the inner workings of a spider’s web, was definitely a “pinch me” moment.
Some of my other favorite moments include:
Cultural experiences I would love to bring back to my life in the States are the French’s celebration of love and its independent nature. In France, couples aren’t shy, and a basic greeting is a kiss on each cheek. Passion is evident and showing affection is not gawked at or regarded with distaste. I was inspired by this and would love to see it translated as a greater respect between genders in the states.
I noticed and admired as well that there is a very independent, capable, fast-paced air in restaurants and through the streets. Their culture doesn’t entail a waiter breathing down your neck. It is your responsibility to flag them down or ask for the check. Furthermore, I wouldn’t mind bringing the “baguettes and dessert with every meal” part of French culture back with me to the States.
I also must say that my entire experience with the Greenheart Travel group of teens was one huge favorite moment. From the moment the group met, we clicked and by approximately day three it was like we had known each other for years. It was truly special and made my Paris language camp experience even greater.
It was awesome to learn about Belgium and Ecuador from girls who live there, and to meet other kids from all over the States. I will forever cherish our times together in class, dancing in the parking lot, exploring the Latin Quarter, and helping each other order. Thank you.
My time abroad has taught me how to engage and connect with people who live an ocean away and the joy and knowledge that comes from it. Traveling internationally is no longer this daunting, unattainable exploration for me. I’ve never felt so confident or excited to learn a new language and meet new people.
This trip has fostered in me an electric curiosity and the traveling bug has most definitely bit me. I can’t thank Greenheart Travel enough for making this trip even a possibility for me. I have no doubt that I will travel much more and visit Paris again. It is a city drenched in light and enveloped in creativity, leaving you starry eyed in it’s wake. For now, back to reminiscing wistfully. Au revoir!
About the Author:
Angelique Ayoade is 17-years-old, from Asheville, North Carolina and is a Greenheart Travel Global Explorer Scholarship winner for our Teen Summer Language Camp in France! Angelique believes “interacting with people of a different culture and learning is a step towards raising up unity, empathy and love for people globally.” Follow her adventures here!