Studying … in Paris

Commentary by Bailey Pennington
Times-News correspondent
teens20@thetimesnews.com

Teens & Twenties writer Bailey Pennington recently studied abroad in Paris. / Bailey Pennington, Times-News correspondent

Upon entering college, students are bombarded with messages about campus jobs, clubs, Greek life and more. One of these enticing offers is to join a study-abroad program, but I didn’t give it a ton of thought — at first.
Like many other high school and college-age students, I have always wanted to travel and see the world. Paris has always been the top on my list of places to visit, which was only fueled by my study of French language in high school and continuation of it in my first semester of college. I considered studying there as a potential opportunity, but didn’t give it serious thought until visiting a study abroad fair. While at the fair, I heard of all the programs offered and, still being unsure about leaving home, planned to wait for a year or two — until a new program fell into my lap.
While in class, our professor suggested a five- to six-week summer session in Paris for 2013 in which we would take a French language course at La Sorbonne as well as a culture class in English with a UNC professor. I decided a month out of my summer wouldn’t be too bad, and applied for the program, although I never truly believed I would earn a spot.
A few months later, I received an email welcoming me into the 2013 Summer Abroad Program in Paris. I was so overwhelmed I cried and squealed all at once. This was an experience of a lifetime and I was chosen.
The logistics, money and packing whizzed by faster than I expected, and by late June, I was boarding a plane alone for an eight-hour flight to Paris to meet with 12 other study abroad students. Prior to this trip, I had never been to Europe and I had no idea what to expect. My first day in Paris was not a good reflection of my experience, either; it began with unexpected weather, six-hour jet lag, expensive food and a hostel far away from any of the beautiful sites I had imagined. I began to question if I had made the right choice, but the remainder of the trip proved to be better than I could’ve hoped.
During the course of my time in Paris, I was able to become really close with the other students on the trip, and together we took part in all the cliché tourist-type events, as well as take part in many things that visitors wouldn’t usually be able to do.
I was able to experience fireworks over the Eiffel Tower and Seine River on Bastille Day, the Independence Day of France. I joined the crowds on the Champs Élysées to watch the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France zoom by. I ate at the infamous Les Deux Magots restaurant (where visiting celebrities usually dine) and enjoyed dessert at a chocolatier in the ritzy district. I climbed all 679 stairs of the Eiffel Tower at night as it was sparkling. I dipped my feet in the garden fountains at Fountainbleu castle, stood on the painted bridge in Jean Claude Monet’s water lily garden, and felt the sand of Omaha Beach in Normandy. All of these experiences made the trip truly priceless.
My trip abroad was not completely picture-perfect, however. I did attend five hours of class each day, withstand endless metro lines and stops, endure France’s lack of air conditioning during a western European heat wave, and brave hundreds of tourists flooding the sites.
Joining the study-abroad program not only gave me school credit and the chance to travel, but it made me more independent and broadened my cultural world view. Studying abroad opened my eyes to the hundreds of things I still want to do and gave me a new perspective to viewing the world around me.
I had to step outside of my comfort zone and try new things with people I had never met before. I lived more than 3,000 miles away (and a six-hour time difference)  from my family and friends. Yet, all of these things made me a stronger person and only enhanced my college experience.
Studying abroad was one of the highlights of my college career, if not my life. I highly recommend it to anyone considering the idea. After all, you never want to look back and regret the opportunities you didn’t take.
For more information on my day-to-day experiences while I was in Paris, check out my blog at talesofatravelingspirit.blogspot.com.

 Bailey Pennington is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Teens & Twenties writer.

 

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