Ryan Chartrand

Paris: the city of lights, trees, love, fashion and, as of Aug. 25, the residence of a very confused Cal Poly junior. It’s been a challenging transition. During my first week here, I had to find my own housing, get the paperwork in order for my carte de sejour, buy a cell phone, figure out what university I’d like to go to, apply to it, take pictures and send them to the appropriate government institutions, purchase a Metro pass, figure out how to get from one point on the Metro to the other, all while taking orientation grammar classes. And all of this in French.

The fun did not stop there. Registration for classes at Nanterre Universit‚, Paris 10 started the first week of October. There is no fitting way to describe registering for classes that would accurately give you an image of the hell students go through at the beginning of every French semester. In two words: it sucked. My days were full of lines, lines and more lines. Registering for classes was like Labor Day at Disneyland, but without the fireworks and the fun. I spent over six hours standing in the wrong lines.

I’d ask one important-looking person “Where should I go?” in my broken French, which apparently no one understood, because I’d stand in the line they suggested for an hour and a half only to learn that the line I was in was incorrect. I kept bouncing back and forth between unnecessary lines until I felt like a highly abused air hockey puck. But, after five days of confusion and a succession of minor heart attacks, I finally cemented my schedule. That was probably one of the proudest moments of my life.

Before I committed to this year abroad, I’d never realized how coddled we are in the States. The difference between French and American course registration processes alone speaks volumes about the degrees Americans go to make our lives less strenuous.

Since the day I stepped off the plane at Charles de Gaulle, I feel like I’ve had my diapers ripped off and been lobbed into the ring with a 300-pound sumo wrestler. But the confusion, anxiety and mild terror aside, I’m having a blast. The food, the people, the sights, the history: I’m living out the dream I’ve had since high school.

Studying in France has opened me up to more than just the French joie de vivre; it’s unbolted the door to the entirety of Europe. The language program at Nanterre assembles students from all different nationalities in one classroom; think “L’Auberge Espagnole” minus the adultery. This linguistic m‚lange makes for some bizarre conversations.

A few weekends ago my roommate and I held a full-blown French fˆte. We crammed 24 people in our itty-bitty Parisian apartment. It was an international event; we spoke German, French and English. Actually, I tried to speak German, French and English. Halfway through the night, I found out that the only German word I knew (and had been using profusely), “Da,” was not actually German at all . c’est la vie.

There are so many memories that I’ll take home with me in June. But the small ones are my favorites: lying on the grass in the park on weekend afternoons, the wind biting my nose when I step off the Metro, the view from Sacre Coeur at sunset. These quiet moments remind me why I’m here. Studying abroad has definitely stretched me to my limits, but I can feel myself growing. I’ve stepped outside of my box. Vive la France!

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