This post was contributed by Zoe Howard, a Global Ambassador for fall 2020. Zoe is a French, English, and Rhetoric and Writing junior studying abroad in Paris, France. Stay tuned throughout the semester as Zoe shares her experiences abroad!
A couple of days ago, I was wandering through the streets of Paris, trying to absorb as many sights and smells as I could, knowing I only had a month left in La Ville-Lumière (The City of Light). Now, I am sitting alone in my student apartment in Paris, looking out at the empty streets that were once filled with so much movement and life.
Since the last week of October, France has been in a re-confinement due to COVID-19. Restaurants and shops are closed, and many people are now working from home. What does this mean for students currently studying abroad in France? It means we adapt. I am still living in Paris, but my classes are now all online through Zoom, as are other social and academic events for my study abroad program. I miss seeing my peers and professors in person, but remote learning has taught me that it is still possible to foster meaningful and lasting relationships from afar, whether through virtual class discussions or Zoom movie nights.
At the beginning of October, I started interning at a library specializing in 20th-century literature as a part of my abroad program. I spent my days among stacks of books and manuscripts—living the English/French major dream. However, re-confinement cut this experience short. Despite my disappointment, I’ve chosen to focus on the time I did have at the library and how much I grew personally and professionally. I gained hands-on experience archiving literary documents and preparing for museum exhibitions and learned so much about the field of library science through my co-workers. My internship was also entirely in French, which forced me out of my comfort zone and greatly improved my language skills. I also had the privilege of working right next to the Panthéon and being able to eat my lunch in the breathtaking Jardin du Luxembourg every day.
Because my internship wasn’t too far from my apartment, I chose to walk there and back most days, and my commute to work, as odd as it sounds, became one of my favorite parts of my daily routine. Now I am thankful I took this opportunity because the new COVID restrictions only allow people to be outside for an hour per day, within 1km of their homes (with few exceptions). While I can no longer people-watch during my lunch break in the Jardin du Luxembourg, I can explore the hidden gems sitting just outside my window that have gone unnoticed for the past couple of months.
A couple of days ago, after walking no more than 10 minutes from my front door, I discovered a quaint neighborhood called Cité florale. Walking on the cobblestone streets past the ivy-covered houses made me feel like I had traveled back in time and left the crowded city. In addition to Cité florale, I am able to visit Parc Montsouris, my favorite park in Paris, which houses beautiful bronze and marble sculptures that I don’t think I could ever get tired of looking at.
Aside from my authorized daily hour of exploration and the occasional trip to the grocery store, my time will be spent in my apartment. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I enjoy spending time alone. However, having to spend almost all of one’s time alone without social interaction throughout the day can make even the most introverted introvert feel isolated. Talking to friends and family back in the United States is a good way to cope with isolation, but the time difference between France and Texas can make communication difficult. To help cope with the increase in time I now spend alone, I have been making sure to keep myself busy. I still have schoolwork to do, but I also think it is important to spend time doing things for my own relaxation and enjoyment, whether it be watching a French movie on Netflix, doing some yoga, or working on a painting.
Obviously, my last month in Paris will look a little different from what I anticipated, but different doesn’t always mean bad. My experience abroad up until this point has certainly been unconventional, and I can still say that I have grown as a person and made lasting friendships and memories. I have had a fair share of setbacks and bad days, but I have learned and grown through it all. I still have about a month left in Paris and so much to explore (within 1km of my apartment, of course), so here’s to embracing the unexpected!