Written by Swati
January 16, 2023
Paris, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Je t’aime de tout mon cour. I love you with all my heart. I love you not only for what you are but for what you’ve unlocked in me. I could tell you about every interaction I’ve had with a French person, or the relief I felt at finding a familiar face from Georgia Tech. But as I look back on my first week at Georgia Tech Europe, I can amount this experience thus far with a few of my internal thoughts: I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I’m doing it. I’ve always been a limit tester. How far can I push myself? How much can I grow? At any moment I’m always asking myself, “Am I getting too comfortable here?” Those were the questions that unlocked this adventure and even now I can’t believe I boarded a plane across the world all alone. I’m sitting here with a cup of tea, made with microwaved water from European pipes, admittedly a bit odd tasting, but I realize that pieces of familiarity can be found anywhere. At this moment I feel invincible. I retell stories with a hint of humor to friends back in Atlanta, knowing that at the moment I felt so out of my element in a country I’ve grown more accustomed to. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Upon my arrival, I could only string together a simple: Bonjour, je m’appelle Swati, enchantee. But within hours of arriving, I was stringing together poorly formed sentences from words I caught on signage and eavesdropping at the airport. Pardon, ou est le baggage? I mumbled to an unsuspected border patrol agent who explained I’d have to get through border patrol first. Hm. Guess I’d conveniently forgotten about that one. Pushing down the embarrassment from that interaction, I wait patiently in line until I get a stamp on my passport and head over to grab my suitcase, pleased to find it waiting for me as I walk up to the carousel. The pieces are falling in place so smoothly, it’s a bit unnerving. For my life at least, it’s been a bit more tumultuous than most, entirely due to user error. Luckily I found a new friend by baggage claim, Hugh, who thankfully was able to navigate us over to the airport shuttle that took us to our respective hotels. I’ve never been so glad to show up a day early for something. Moments later I found a group of ten GTE students sitting in the lobby of the Ibis hotel. After locating 2 other students who had early check ins, we piled our suitcases in their rooms and set out for the heart of Paris. It still didn’t hit me. It didn’t hit me for hours. It didn’t hit me when I saw signage in front of stores all in French. It didn’t hit me at Notre Dame. It didn’t even hit me when I stutter out “Un pain au chocolat s’il vous plaît,” to a French bakery owner who responds in English, “Cash or card?”
Then suddenly we’re walking along the Seine and it hits me all at once. This is the city of love stories and songs, where youth flourishes and shines juxtaposed against the cloudy, rainy city in the winter. This is the city where I will spread my wings. And here I am. Standing with a group of strangers that might very well soon become my new best friends. Haphazardly snapping pictures, taking in the streets, the sights, the smells, the sounds, everything I can possibly cram into my brain. It’s in moments like these that I wish I had photographic memory. On our long wandering of the streets we look out at an overpass on the Seine as a piano accordion hums in the background. Nothing has ever felt so French, or quite so sweet. We see the green street stalls filled with art and books and trinkets that fold neatly into locked boxes overlooking the Seine and wander our way over to the Louvre. The Louvre. Filled with art from thousands of years ago, long acclaimed, long loved, long admired. The Winged Victory is mere feet away and I feel the same way she does. Sat in front of the glass pyramid, I feel triumphant. Victorious. The outside of the Louvre is almost as beautiful as I’m sure the pieces of art are inside. The smoky French air and traces of conversations in Italian and Korean and English remind me of how far this city’s influence reaches. In my wanderings, I swear to come back for the street berets and the list of art and history museums I’ve had saved for ages. For now, I’m pleased to take it all in through the looking glass. Next comes the rookie mistake. We trek the 3.5 kilometers, a little more than 2 miles, over to the Eiffel Tower, a journey that leaves me a little worse for wear. About halfway there my feet start throbbing, and there’s nothing I would like more than a steaming cup of tea or hot chocolate, but nevertheless we persist. Upon reaching the great monument, I find it a bit lackluster, but only from the tiredness settling into my bones. I grab a dark, semi-sweet hot chocolate at a cart near the Eiffel Tower and it satisfies the #1 goal of my first day in Paris. After a successful bout of staying awake for a little more than 36 hours, we hop back on the metro headed for our hotels and some sweet, sweet sleep. And showers. We need those.
I’ll admit it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, it’s neither of those two things. How is it possible that it rains almost everyday and I have yet to see a rainbow? Regardless, it’s cloudy and rainy, sleepy and romantic, cozy in its own way. Paris, and later Metz, remind me a lot of Seattle, cozy and calm, sleepy towns full of possibilities, that have each stolen away pieces of my heart. And to the greater European landmass: I accept the grand adventure that awaits me.