This column is about my study abroad experiences from Paris, France. I’m trying to shed light on incredible opportunities to encourage more students to study abroad, as numbers have dipped with the pandemic.
Earlier today, my friend Ava Deconcini, ‘25 posted on her Instagram story. I need to submit a list of 50 annoying things by 11:30 pm, she wrote. Complain away. I decided to help out and type in a few ideas to lighten her mental load. Of course, when invited to complain about literally anything annoying, it’s not hard to find problems. Within a matter of seconds I maxed out the response button’s character count. Sticky fingers, I wrote. Slow service at restaurants. People who are mean to waiters. I had all the time in the world to think of annoyances, because I was currently living in a situation that sours even the most lighthearted optimists: the delayed flight.
Now, I consider myself a relatively seamless traveler, meaning that missed trains and no-show buses are just part of the routine. That doesn’t mean that one ever expects to be stuck in an airport. And it certainly doesn’t make it less bad. Especially when, during a lovely weekend visiting my Stanford friends studying in Florence, I realized that my time abroad was fleeting.
Sitting in front of the half-finished church in Bologna , we spent an hour people-watching. We finished our late lunch, walked the streets, and now we were watching the sun set over a busy square while it got late enough to go for aperitifs (read: Hugo Spritzer). To paint the picture accurately, I should also include that there was a man yelling at us and the other step-sitters about the “ragazzi” and “Italia” and that’s all I really got out of the green-jacket-clad political preacher. While we were sitting, my friend Calvin Lauglin ‘24 ooked over at me. What are you thinking about?, he asked.
I was thinking about how quickly my quarter abroad was fading. I have been dreaming of studying in Paris since I was 11 years old and had a painting of the Eiffel Tower hung on my wall. We always know time will pass by quickly, but that knowledge doesn’t slow anything down. All I wanted to do when I got back to Paris was enjoy it. Soak it up and savor it and appreciate it.
So my last night in Florence as I waited to fall asleep, I dreamt of my imminent return to the foreign city that kind of feels a little bit like mine. For no reason other than I want it to. I don’t deserve it — my French certainly isn’t good enough for that, as my French teacher would not hesitate to tell you. But I want it to be mine.
I woke up early and packed my bag, ate pizza, and wandered the streets of Florence. Yet my thoughts were of France.
I got to the airport early, to eliminate the stress of missing my flight. Instead, my flight tried to miss me. With a dying phone battery and nowhere to charge it with, I sat at gate 5 and noticed that the boarding time passed 30 minutes ago. And then another 30 minutes went by. And then another 30.
The flight attendants were exhausted, and didn’t have any answers. I heard whispers of a possible vol annulé, and I looked up trains to Paris and Milan and Bologna and Pisa and other flights in the coming days and places to stay and I tried to do my homework to at least be productive and I emailed my French teacher I was going to miss our evening class and I kept pushing, pushing, pushing. I called my mom once, twice, three times, then my aunt, my brother and some friends (to no avail) and I was trying not to freak out. The weekend away had pressure cooked my idea of Paris, that every last minute I had was going to count, and now I was losing hours to an airport. Offense or defense? Wait another hour and miss the train, or pray that the budget airline I was taking, Vueling, who might try to charge me for my handbag as it’s technically against their policy to have both a backpack and a purse, gets their shit together in time?
I switched seats to try and find a functional outlet for the 5th time, and realized that my flight was supposed to have left three hours prior. I was supposed to be unpacked in my Parisian room already. I was supposed to be on my way to pick up my Habitual Afternoon Pastry.
And maybe this situation just sounds annoying, annoying like the kind of situation that would go on Ava’s list, but my brain takes situations like this, those where I lack control, and spins them into something much worse. My anxiety has my hands shaking and my chest tight and I feel hopeless and don’t know when it’s going to end. Tick tock, tick tock. Sometimes you have to let it go, my aunt told me. When you try to control your emotions too much. Just let them be.
My last shred of resolve slid down my cheek. There is no way I’m crying in an airport right now, I thought. And suddenly, scattered applause erupted in the other room. They made an announcement. Our flight was leaving after all.
I laughed in relief and the lady next to me caught my eye. We shared a smile, and the stress of the moment eliminated the common French don’t make eye contact with strangers wall. Tu vas à Paris aussi? I asked. She was indeed – for fashion week. She worked for Chanel. No, she couldn’t get me a ticket to the show, but yes, I did ask.
Soon, I scanned my boarding pass and entered the bus that would take us across the tarmac. Another lady got on after me, a black fedora covering a partially shaved head and chunky geometric earrings. The thrill of our shifted fate, the fact I was going to wake up in Paris tomorrow morning, and the excitement of my last conversation made me speak to her too. And she is a freaking NEZ! Nez means nose in French, which means it’s her job to smell and help make perfumes. Similar to a Master Sommelier, achieving nez status is extremely difficult and requires both hard work and a genetically strong sense of smell. She too was heading to Paris for Fashion Week, as her husband works in luxury shoes.
I guess the point of this story is to say that, in the midst of unfavorable circumstances, whether that be a delayed flight or internal panic, it’s easy to get preoccupied with the current moment and think everything is bad bad bad. And maybe for a little bit it is. But tides always change. And nothing bad can last forever. That’s physics (I think… I’m an American Studies major). And now I’m on a flight back to Paris, and the New Yorkers sitting next to me asked me how to use the public transportation system because maybe they thought I was a local. Who knows. It’s easy to find the things to feel negative about, and I do hope Ava finds 50 of them for her assignment. But for now, I’m on a flight back to my town of familiar metro stops and the lady who will greet me with my morning croissant tomorrow, and I have no more ideas of things for Ava’s list.