(all photos by Alexa)
Up until the day I left, Paris had been a beautiful dream for a girl who grew up reading fairy tales and watching Passport to Paris. But the day I left, it became, all at once, a terrifying and beautiful dream. Paris wasn’t real to me until the moment I had to say goodbye to my mother at the airport security checkpoint. It was in that moment that I was all at once terrified, where before I had been excited, for this seemingly far-off fairytale adventure that was Paris, France to me. After saying goodbye to my mother for the third time (because I was too afraid to go to my gate without her), I held back tears as I walked to my terminal and went to board my plane. When it was my turn to hand over my ticket and board, the flight agent informed me that I couldn’t take my carry-on item because the plane was full. The tears came. It was embarrassing. But those tears prompted another flight agent to escort me onto the plane and have a flight attendant find a place for my carry-on. When the flight attendant found out that I was going to Paris to study, I told her I was scared. I couldn’t help it. She had a motherly face and again more tears came. I’m 21, but I’ve never felt more like a child than I did on that connecting flight. I turned to face the window so I could cry for reasons I didn’t even know. The flight staff checked on me periodically throughout my flight, much to my embarrassment and comfort. And at the end of the flight, out of pity or kindness or a mix of both, the flight attendants brought me a gift bag filled with candy and snacks (shout out to American Airlines!). My fear was melting away because of the kindness of others.
After landing in Paris, the tears were gone, but my string of embarrassing moments continued. One of my first encounters with a Parisian involved me accidentally dropping my oversized suitcase on a middle school boy on the sidewalk. The suitcase was almost bigger than he was. On my first night, I got lost trying to find the Eiffel Tower in the rain with my friends, Katie and Abigail. It was exhilarating and we weren’t sure if we’d make it back to the dorm. We could either learn the metro system or sleep in a park. We chose the former. But I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as Paris on that rainy night. And these moments and the sometimes awkward mishaps in language are teaching me not just about how to live in Paris, but about humbling myself. Paris is still a terrifying and beautiful dream. But it’s also a great teacher and I can’t wait to learn as much as I can from it.