A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be part of the group of BB&N students traveling to Paris for a 12-day exchange trip. For a few months, the Global Exchange Ambassadors (GEA) group had been researching and making presentations about French culture in preparation for our stay. The experience, however, was not something we could wrap up in just a Google Sites page.
The most unique aspect of the program was staying at a host’s house with a family who spoke in an entirely different language. Fortunately, my correspondent Anna and her host family were incredibly sweet and supportive of my French-learning efforts. We arrived in Paris after an overnight flight, and Anna took me on a walk around the city, touring the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company, as well as the even-more-famous cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris (which was under repair). I remember feeling, despite my intense sleep-deprivation, a sense of awe at the beauty of the history surrounding me. The architecture was especially appealing, whether it was the Haussmann-style rooftops or the tiny, archaic elevator that led to my host home.
Though I did not spend too much time at our partner school École Alsacienne, I did learn how to annotate a poem and conduct a chemistry lab entirely in French. It was especially interesting to speak to students my age in a different language and notice slight cultural differences in the way they interacted with each other. I also enjoyed walking around the (at times litter-filled) streets of Paris and snacking on crepes with Anna and her friends, who filled me in about the goings-on of their class.
After short morning classes, the BB&N group would take off and embark on days of exploration around the city. This took up most of our time, and we saw a good chunk of the infinite sights in Paris. We climbed the Eiffel Tower, sat on a cruise through the Seine, took pictures of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, ate chocolate-covered pizza, nodded at stained glass windows, and took the train to neighboring villages. Seeing Monet’s renderings of nature at Musee D’Orsay, a train station converted into a museum with galleries of sculptures and impressionist paintings, was certainly my art highlight of the trip.
Additionally, I adored taking the TGV, France’s highspeed train, to places such as Strasbourg and Chartre on longer day trips. A relaxing change from the busy metro cars, the seats on the TGV allowed us to read, listen to music, chat, and play Uno as we sped by landscapes of the French countryside. Strasbourg, a quaint village with historical roots in both German and French culture, was perhaps my favorite place to visit. But, wherever we went, I enjoyed talking to my friends from BB&N and getting to know people I otherwise would not have interacted with at school.
Above all, the trip to France sparked this yearning in me to live in a culture entirely different from mine, where the streets are more old-fashioned, holding a boulangerie every other block. Never before had I felt this need to become fluent in the language I’ve been studying for the last three years. Along the way, I developed friendships and participated in conversations that further expanded my worldview.
On the 15th, my exchange student Anna will arrive in Boston for her 12 day stay at my house. She will come to class with me in the mornings, tour the city during the day, and have dinner with my family at night. I am so excited to see her again, and I hope I can make her stay as hospitable and enjoyable as she made mine.