My abiding feeling while studying abroad has been gratitude.
The opportunities I’ve had this semester while studying at Sciences Po in Paris, France, are mind-boggling. A text I sent at the start of the year after bombarding my friends with the new and beautiful things I’d seen so far was: “It is not lost on me how bonkers my life is right now.”
I wouldn’t have had the resources or confidence to embark on this adventure without my family and my scholarship supporters, the Forty Acres Scholars Program and the Stamps Charitable Foundation. I wish I could turn my whole heart inside out to show how grateful I am.
For example, this month, I’ve traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, and London, England. Each trip exposed me to a country about which I had plenty of preconceived notions that fell away when faced with my lived experience.
I met up with a friend from high school who is currently on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Alanya, Turkey, so she helped me to navigate everything from the currency exchange rate to the winding aisles of the Grand Bazaar.
I knew I would enjoy Istanbul because it is so different from anywhere else I’ve been, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with the city and the culture. I had always heard the cliché about Turkey standing at the border of the East and the West, but I found this to be profoundly true.
The Anatolian side of the city (the side on the Asian continent) had world-class Turkish restaurants next to
third-wave coffee shops. The mosques and palaces combined traditional Islamic geometry with a Rococo flourish in an architectural style known as “Ottoman Baroque.” The vibrant colors and bold flavors at every turn were such a joyful departure from the gloom of a Parisian winter.
On the other hand, one of the biggest culture shocks in London was finding out that the red double-decker buses are still actively used as a method of public transportation and are not just a bit of British nostalgia! I managed to see five bookstores, four West End shows, three museums, and two palaces in just one weekend. (I think I probably walked at least 20,000 steps every day.)
I didn’t expect how much of a difference it would make to speak the same language as the majority of the country. Even though I try to speak French as much as I can in Paris, my vocabulary is woefully limited, which means I’m often figuring things out with a mix of instinct and Google Translate. British culture, too, is much closer to American culture. London felt very similar to New York but with more history and stature.
I actually see myself living in London more long-term than in Paris, which was an unexpected discovery for me from the trip. If Paris is a glass of champagne, London is a pint of beer. Both are nice, but one can’t have champagne with every meal. London felt more livable, and it has a huge presence in the publishing industry, in which I hope to pursue a career after graduation.
As you’ll hear from almost any study abroad student, traveling on the weekends is one of the most exciting parts of the experience. But I’m always relieved to return to Paris.
Classes are wrapping up at Sciences Po, and by the time this is published, I will have turned in the last of my assignments. It’s hard to believe that a whole semester has gone by; I still feel like there’s so much yet to see.
I feel gratitude when I sit under the wisteria in the courtyard of Sciences Po’s Saint Guillaume campus. I’m grateful while looking out my window at Notre Dame — the first thing I do, pulling back the curtains when I wake up, and the last thing I do before I go to bed.
I’m grateful to lie out on a picnic blanket in the Jardin des Plantes with a book and a baguette. I’m grateful to have met so many friends here, one of whom will end up joining me to sunbathe in the garden.
I’m grateful the sun has finally come out over Paris.
There’s a metaphor there somewhere.
This post was contributed by Eliza Pillsbury, a Global Ambassador for Spring 2022. Eliza is a journalism & Plan II Honors major studying abroad in Paris, France. Read Eliza’s first post here.