Alexa’s Study Abroad Journal: Midterm Swim

All photos are my own.

(Cluny Abbey is a former Benedictine monastery built around the year 910. It is located in the Saône-et-Loire department of France.)


For 21-year-old expats, study abroad is more often written as “study” abroad. I admit, it’s hard to write a midterm paper when you’re romping around the Bourguignon countryside for the weekend (and not just because the secluded hostel has no wi-fi). For three days, my classmates and I ate fresh farm-to-table sandwiches, fawned over some horses, and explored the stomping ground of 12th century monks. I even went to my first degustation! Still, I finished that paper, plus two exams, last week. By Thursday, I was done and more than ready to let off some steam.

One thing that might not pop into your brain when you think of the typical “study” abroad experience is mental and/or physical health. Believe me, my undergrad friends and I are stressed, too. Paris can be a beautiful tease when you’re up to your eyeballs in schoolwork. So, what do we do? We exercise, we drink red wine, and we repeat.

Last year, I found mental solace in a strict diet combined with high-intensity exercise. But, I haven’t been able to properly run since October. The thing about runners is that they love to lie to themselves. The other thing about runners is that they’re often pretty tuned-in to their bodies’ various health signals and warnings. And yet, they’ll run on their screwed up muscles and chipping bones until their legs detach from their hips. I’m barely exaggerating.

I went to the American Hospital in Paris a few weeks ago. My x-rays proved that I was generally healthy and simply suffering from an extreme bout of shin splints. The doctor prescribed rest. It’s been a lazy few weeks, but I’ve gotten to do a lot of things with my newfound free time. Namely, I’ve eaten croissants, crepes, and nutella like they’re going out of style. Plus, I rediscovered Buttes Chaumont and La Villette, the two biggest parks in Paris that are conveniently located in my arrondissement. I’ve bought some spring staples and books at pop-up flea markets. I’ve volunteered my leftover time at a middle school and a youth organization.

photo 2

(The Parc des Buttes Chaumont is my favorite public park in Paris. It was built in 1867 during Napoleon III’s regime. This is my view from the top in late August.)


Perhaps my favorite thing so far, though, was the pool. Espace Sportif Pailleron is a pretty big gym at the bottom of Buttes Chaumont. While regular gyms (think exercise bikes, ellipticals, and weight machines) are extremely expensive in Paris, the pools are nicely priced and much more popular. I recruited Ale to check it out with me on Saturday afternoon. Incidentally, the trip doubled as an excuse to get out of the dirty Parisian air for a while.

We walked into the glass-roofed brick building, just a bit hungover, and bought our tickets. (Jumping into chilled water is something I wasn’t completely ready to do in my right mind.) Students with proof of residence in the city enter for 1.80 euros (and for 3.10, otherwise). The first confusing thing I saw was the ice-skating rink.

As we entered the pre-pool arena (for lack of a better description), I was immediately so grateful for Ale’s presence. The place is half maze, half cultural adventure. We stood in the corner and tried to figure out what to do. Drying machines slide up and down on the walls. If you enter one changing booth, you exit into a different corridor. The bathrooms do not have toilet paper. Lockers are electronic and require memorizing numbers and codes. It is mandatory to take off your shoes, unless they are flip flops. You must shower and wash your feet before swimming. And, if you start swimming without a bathing cap, you get kicked out.

We learned some of these things the hard way, others by watching people, and still others thanks to a helpful cartoon instruction manual painted onto a wall. My workout, though, was amazing. I kept thinking of that one Vonnegut quote: “In the water I am beautiful”. And, you know, I felt pretty beautiful. Even though my goggles left me with red raccoon-like marks around my eyes and my cap was too tight for my head, I had fun. I got to blend in with the Parisians for a couple of hours. I saw bodies of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and didn’t feel too self-conscious about my own. I soaked my tired, achy muscles in a jacuzzi.

I am quite full of love and appreciation, and looking forward to more misadventures of the everyday French variety.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of pool photos, but that’d be a bit strange.


Alexa Wybraniec

Alexa studies journalism, media and French at Rutgers University. She is abroad at Sciences Po for her third year of college. Check back every other Monday for a new post and connect on Twitter.

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