“I am washing my face before bed while a country is on fire. It feels dumb to wash my face and dumb not to. It has never been this way and it has always been this way. Someone has always clinked a cocktail glass in one hemisphere as someone loses a home in another, while someone falls in love in the same apartment building where someone grieves. The fact that suffering, mundanity and beauty coincide is unbearable and remarkable.” — Mari Andrew
I’ve thought of this quote often in my first month abroad. Over the course of this past month, the longest-reigning British monarch passed away, the European Union announced an impending energy crisis, the UK appointed a new prime minister, and Ukraine regained swathes of territory from Russian occupation following the 200-day mark since the invasion.
I read the news here as a morning ritual, usually accompanied by coffee and a bowl of oats or muesli. Sometimes the news makes it hard to breathe, and other times it fills me with boundless awe and gratitude that I am existing in this beautiful city and learning about great philosophers while a girl my age across the world is uprooted from her home in the wake of a missile strike.
In short, my first month in Paris has reminded me of the inexhaustible variety of life. Sciences Po has introduced me to a mosaic of people from around the world, with a 44.9% international student body population. My professors range from French to Italian to Argentinian, and my classes boast a vast medley of nationalities, including Norway, Sweden, Israel, Germany, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Italy, Russia, Australia, Ireland, and Spain. This constellation of humanity is dazzling to witness in one room.
I find it hard to capture the complexity of the month that has transpired. Some days I feel like a local when a lost tourist asks me for directions to Le Bon Marché, the world’s first department store, which happens to be a four-minute walk from my apartment. Other days, I could not feel more like a foreigner, stumbling over my words as I attempt to engage in conversation with one of my French classmates.
Sometimes I am envious of those studying abroad for an entire year, especially on days when I am reminded of how rich and dense Paris is. Other days, I am grateful for the time I do have left, for its brevity reminds me to suck the marrow out of all that these four months have to offer. Some days I blink and a week has elapsed, and on others, time passes slowly, as if the world around me is moving through molasses. One day, this city feels like home, like a space I have occupied in another life. The next day, I am displaced to a new arrondissement and am reminded of the many facets of the city I have yet to meet.
The paradox is that I am terrified yet thrilled, overstimulated yet thirsty for more, and I find comfort and solace in my discomfort. I feel homesick in a place that, in some ways, feels more like home than my place of birth, battling nostalgia for the familiar while craving the foreign and unknown. I am trying to sink my teeth and hands into this city and leave no opportunity wasted while simultaneously enjoying the sweetness of doing absolutely nothing and the simple mundanities of daily living.
And these paradoxes can coexist because if there is one thing that I have clarity on, it is that the reality of studying abroad exists in the gray, liminal space between challenge and opportunity.
This post was contributed by Elissa Angelow, a Global Ambassador for Fall 2022. Elissa is a senior psychology and French double-major, studying abroad in Paris, France.