Rather than working on my final papers and a presentation as I had intended, I spent the weekend getting to know girls from the program that I had never really hung out with before. I thoroughly enjoyed our outings and found that I had a lot in common with many of them, despite our lack of interaction earlier. My presentation came together easily, but my procrastination in regards to the paper made me feel tense and irritable the weekdays preceding my final day as an undergrad in Paris (June 3rd). I stressed and pulled an all-nighter working to rewrite my paper in my Documenting the Periphery class. My professor Carole gave the class three options for our final assignment; the option I chose included rewriting one of our previous papers in response to the feedback she provided, in which we would include a grander explanation and build a stronger argument. The fact that this seemed so easy to me caused me to put it off in a way I have never done before–figures this would happen on my very last assignment before the completion of my bachelors degree. Reflecting on my thoughts and emotions at the time, this was my very last assignment as an undergrad at UC Irvine. This easy assignment would be the final essay I would submit to be graded by my professor that would result in the conclusion of my college career. For these reasons, I felt somewhat rebellious and unnerved, and wasted time searching for concerts and festivals for my summer in the Bay Area. In between this activity I worked on my essay and created new playlists on Spotify.
I did not get much sleep that night, but I did successfully complete and submit my paper. Though I thought I would be incredibly annoyed due to sleep deprivation, I awoke on June 3rd with a burst of energy and looked forward to my last day at school and the upcoming field trip that would take place in class. That Tuesday, in between text-oriented conversations and an emotional wrap-up in poem form delivered by Carole consisting of what she believed we learned these past five weeks, we visited a restaurant we would be dining in the following evening for our farewell dinner. It was called Manger. Carole was not only impressed with the quality and decadence of the food, but was also moved by the social service it provided to the community. Manger provides an assistance to the community by training unemployed Parisians with no prior culinary experience. In many cases, those employed were previously criminal offenders that had difficulty getting jobs elsewhere. Additionally, the recently opened restaurant supports a collaboration of culinary expertise by featuring renown chefs to create a broader sense of gastronomy. The presentation that included an informal question and answer segment was incredibly informational and gave us an understanding of the obstacles involved in such a generous and kindhearted gesture. Upon employment, a contract is set in place that requires a year’s commitment to the restaurant, with the goal being to learn the skills of the trade and move on to bigger and better opportunities and leave an opening available for another troubled individual. The rehabilitation provided by the restaurant is a worthwhile donation to society that brought my instructor to tears.
After taking the five-minute walk back to class and briefly discussing the concepts that were proposed over the last five weeks, we were let out an hour early. I decided to go shopping with some friends rather than take the long nap I had initially planned for. We headed over to Les Halles by the Pompidou. The weather was especially terrible that day – I remember getting off the metro and walking around lost in the rain. Thankfully, I was prepared with an umbrella, but my height made it difficult to navigate, forcing me to hit people passing by.
Soon, we correctly oriented ourselves and arrived at the enormous shopping center. It was incredible; like an extension of a train station, in the form of a mall that is actually connected to one of the largest train stations in Paris–“Chatelet.” As it is a huge mall, the expectation of people getting lost is high, and henceforth necessitates an interactive map on every floor, that not only assists guests from across the world, but also has a touch screen and voice feature that speaks English, French, German, Italian, and Chinese (just to list a few). Once we found our way, we headed straight to the shoe section. I came across a pair I had been eyeing on Ana, but when they were on my feet they felt unsafe and were borderline unflattering. I decided not to get them and we moved on to a different store. Now, I had been in New Look before, but at Les Halles it was a completely different experience. The store was absolutely enormous! I was only interested in shoes so I made my way to that area, and when I arrived my jaw literally dropped. Within the seemingly small store there was essentially a department for shoes. It was insane. Shoes EVERYWHERE. Some wedges, some pumps, some sandals, some platforms, in all different colors, straps, and sizes. I was in heaven. I went through the selection and quickly grabbed three pairs that looked appealing. I was torn between two, but decided on these elegant black wedges with soft straps; so lovely.
Since that was all I had been looking for, I made my way to the line and waited. Now, as a student living and studying abroad for the last ten weeks, I picked up some pretty valuable skills I must always keep in mind (as it continues to stay applicable to me): always haggle, inquire about student discounts, and stay smiling in the process. Once I got to the register I inquired about student discounts. Though I had a feeling student discounts were only credited when the shopper had the New Look student card (which I did not have), I thought, “What’s the harm in asking anyway?” (<–back to my “why the hell not” philosophy.”) He asked to see my student card and I showed him my student ID. He eyed it suspiciously and flipped it back and forth a couple times. Then he gave it back to me, tapped something on his computer, and my bill was discounted three euros! Sweet deal! I was very pleased by this. I LOVE getting deals.
Anyway, after getting my shoes I was ready to leave the mall. It was all very overwhelming and I had purchased what I had come for. I left with Sarah and we separated from the rest of the girls. On the way back, the weather had completely changed and the sun was starting to come out; what a great way to end the shopping excursion. Once we arrived in our apartment complex she remembered she didn’t have her key – Marissa had it, and she was most likely still in the mall. Thankfully I was with her; we didn’t want another “June” incident:
On Tuesday, May 27th, when Nicole and I got back from Rome we were notified that June, one of our peers, was robbed downstairs in our apartment complex. It was in the little lobby area and she didn’t have her key to censor inside. After about 20 minutes, this group of male teenagers broke into the lobby and stole her computer, wallet, and iPhone. It was so disappointing because June is so sweet and kind and had so many memories on her computer. But this is the reality of Paris (and the world for that matter); it can be dangerous and unsafe, so we must always be cautious and keep our wits about us. It was very unfair, though, that in the Safety Meeting, the Paris ACCENT Center essentially blamed June for getting robbed, even though the door had been broken into before and was known to be “flimsy.” They also never informed the students that we could be buzzed in by someone upstairs. Maybe if June had known that, she could’ve gotten in the building and this whole situation would’ve been avoided…That might have been helpful information to know…
Anyway, back to my story. Unfortunately, Sarah had no way to get in touch with Marissa, so she hung out with Roberto, hoping her roommate would arrive within the next couple hours. Meanwhile, I had big plans: nap time! Just kidding – I mean, I seriously was planning to take a nap, but not before I prepared my evening plans. I only had a couple days left in Paris and I still hadn’t been to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. It was 6pm, and the sun was supposed to set at 9:47pm that evening. That meant I had one hour to nap before I needed to leave for the Arc, followed by a visit to Montparnasse Tower. Since the weather had calmed down and looked quite pleasant, I thought it would be an excellent solo adventure to see Paris from great heights.
I left the apartment a little before 7:30pm and headed to the Arc. Again, I made specific instructions for myself to adequately get me from one location to the other. I got to the Arc, traveled through the underground tunnel to the center, got my ticket, and began my journey up the Arc. The spiral staircase inside was over 230 steps (I counted). I, at first, started with momentum and was speed-climbing past couples and groups left and right, careful not to bump them in the narrow stairwell. About halfway through, I started getting a little tired; I hadn’t been working out in Paris at all, and had recently discovered I gained 15 pounds while abroad (I guess that’s what I get for having a diet that consists of baguettes, various pastries, cheese, and wine). Not that I’m making excuses, but I was carrying a little extra weight up the stairs with me. However, for some reason I felt I had to keep up the appearance that I was going up the stairs with ease. Everyone else was much older than I was, and were in the middle of their climbing breaks as I passed them. I thought, “As a young person, I should at least keep up the appearance that I can complete this hike with ease.” And so I did.
I finally made it up and I was pooped. The view was absolutely breathtaking, which made perfect sense because I had literally no breath once I got up there. Only the left side was open to visitors, but what I saw was incredible. I could see the entire Champs-Elysees and the streets parallel to it. The concentric design of Paris has the Arc at the center with streets branching out from it. During instruction, I learned that Paris is shaped like a snail consisting of 20 districts called arrondissements. Each district is numbered, with the first containing the Louvre. Upon exploration, I found it fascinating that each district had its own sights to see, cafes to dine in, and vibes (in a general sense). Similarly, each metro stop was decorated differently, encompassing a different theme of Paris entirely. Yes, each metro stop is associated with a different culture that encompasses it, but in a way this is a characteristic of Paris I can identify with. In the Bay Area, there are many cities: Hayward, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco (just to name a few). In my opinion, each are associated with a different culture, a different representation of the people who represent the entirety of the Bay Area. And yet these groups and the individuals born in this area who continue to live in these cities are proud of what their area has to offer, the accomplishments it’s achieved, and the successors who have passed through.
Being at the top of the Arc brought me back to thoughts of unity and peace. Rather than keeping individuals separated by location with different ideations, beliefs, lifestyles, and more, we should focus on what we share–being human. We are all living in this world, separate but connected; if we looked at the qualities we shared rather than focusing on everything that makes us different, we could really come together as a unified world. These are just some of the sentiments that came to me while so high up. It’s just so beautiful and inspiring and really puts things in perspective in a weird way. Being up so high takes you away from daily life and the monotonous tasks that consume it. After reflecting on these thoughts for awhile, I made my way down the circular staircase within the leg of the Arc.
It was time to go to the Montparnasse Tower. Grace told me about it the previous weekend and I thought going to the tallest skyscraper in France would be the perfect way to watch the sunset, and it would be an excellent last memory to make in Paris. It was almost 9 pm when I got off the metro. I didn’t know which exit to take, but as soon as I made my way to the ground, it was evident. The building stood 210 meters tall, with one of Europe’s fastest elevators taking visitors up. When I got inside I had just missed it, so I waited for it to drop people off and come back down. While downstairs, the female elevator attendant made small talk with me and others who were waiting. She asked where we were from; when I responded with “California” she informed me that 20 minutes ago a guy from California had gone up. “Small world,” I remarked. For half a second I wondered if it was someone from the program, then I thought “Yeah, right.” The elevator arrived and I began my trip up. It took about 38 seconds to get to the top. When it arrived we walked off into a line where we turned in our tickets and were positioned to take a picture with a green screen. Since I went by myself it was a little awkward taking a pretend picture with the lit up Eiffel Tower in the background. But I decided to do it anyway–why not? Afterwards, I walked around the enclosed area and took in the view. It was still light out at 9:30pm and I was trying to orient myself in my new environment. While on the Arc I figured out where I was in Paris (roughly) and from there tried to find other attractions in the city (e.g. Notre Dame, the Sacre-Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, my apartment). So on the Montparnasse, I wanted to do the same thing. I was able to do it, but was curious to investigate the very top of the skyscraper.
I walked up another twenty steps and arrived to the outside area. It was beautiful; somewhat brisk, but I was prepared. The city was starting to light up and it was absolutely incredible. Being up even higher and outside was another thing entirely. It was a whole new perspective. I was also very pleased I was able to go to the Arc previously because this was a bit taller and the location gave the city a whole new perspective. I walked around, took pictures and looked at the maps provided. I had almost completed a circle when I recognized two students from my program: June and Alec. So strange! I guess those must have been the people from California the attendant had been talking about. I was glad to see them.
We walked around together and talked a little about the view and the program and our perspectives on it overall. It was nice sharing this experience with them and getting to spend some unplanned time together before the program ended. I think we all kind of had different expectations of what we thought the program would be like, but in most ways I feel like collectively, we found at least one (if not many) extraordinary moments that will remain with us forever. That or, some unexplainable feeling that washed over us that completed the experience somehow.
For me, I had that feeling when I arrived in Venice – I mean truly in Venice, beyond the airport and the bus trip. I remember it vividly: once we got off the bus and arrived in the station, I immediately felt something – something beyond excitement. I saw a lot of booths with souvenirs and I was ready to explore. Nicole (my roommate and travel partner for the extended weekend) was hesitant to do any discovering before we knew which way we were going. So we stopped, got directions, and were directed to cross two bridges. Once we crossed the first bridge, I felt immersed in my new environment. The views were just gorgeous. I loved the sight of the water with the gondolas, shops, and the architecture.
I am half Italian and for some reason, being in this area made me feel suddenly at home. Though I did not understand the language, I felt at ease. I felt incredibly lucky and happy to have traveled there. I now have a strong desire (and intention) to learn Italian and later live in Venice for at least six months. I think it will be a fantastic experience for me and truly give me a chance to get connected with my Italian heritage. In addition to staying in Venice, I would also travel across Italy and hopefully visit relatives in Aosta. This is just one example of an experience I had while abroad that left my mind open to new beginnings and new adventures that are beyond scholastic advancement. I could sincerely learn something about myself from taking on this new chance and applying myself to an experience I deem worthwhile (like getting to know my extended family). I only bring this up in reference to how I assume others may feel; although times could have been tough for some students, I feel many (if not all) have at least one experience they can refer to that changed their perspective and life goals in some way or another.
After spending about 30 minutes with June and Alec, I said goodbye and headed home. I had planned to meet up with Lucy to discuss her weekend in Germany, but I was too tired upon my arrival home. We made plans to get coffee and pastries before our tour the following morning. I went to bed looking forward to it and feeling very satisfied with the gratifying experience I had on the Arc and the Montparnasse. I went to sleep feeling like such a lucky girl for having had the chance to experience such a fantastic journey.