Sophomore Chanel Varney reflected on a long-awaited study abroad experience in Paris.
The Understated Paris (by Chanel Varney)
Journal Entry: June 3rd
Before meeting the other students at the commencement of our program, we were asked to take a personality test that would reveal our top five strengths. The results did not surprise me; my principal strength was defined as "Achiever." Knowing this about myself, it's also not surprising that I drafted a master bucket list for Paris. There wasn't a single famous sight, museum, or food that I would risk neglecting during my two months stay.
Tomorrow, when I meet the others in the program, I will be introduced to my three group members – two French plus one other Harvard student – and we'll each discuss our strengths as a team bonding exercise.
Journal Entry: June 19th
Today is the Monday after a sensational trip to the Normandy region, home to the ancient, cobblestone-paved town of Bayeux and the wide, flat beaches that once beheld history's largest amphibious battle on D-Day. I glanced over my bucket list, and already, I've placed scores of checkmarks along my rows of plans! No wonder we eager tourists have walked an average of seven miles per day!
For class, the professors have finished a lecture series with topics ranging from biology to urban innovation to statistics. By next week, my team will need to complete the brainstorming process for the program's overarching task, developing a solution for one of the worldwide issues outlined in the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals – poverty, hunger, equality, etc. The solution will ultimately take on the shape of a sleekly-designed and highly detailed 52-page design plan.
Journal Entry: July 12th
The program has picked up pace and we are receiving guidance from an expert on start-ups for transforming our creative solutions into feasible and sustainable business models. My team members and I have grown very close; it's become necessary for us to listen to our own headphones so that we stay concentrated on the design plan!
Last night we worked until midnight in our classrooms on the 21st floor of the Montparnasse Tower, the tallest building in Paris. From the large windows, the glittering Eiffel Tower illuminates the skyline, offering us a stunning backdrop for our team's work.
In two days, we'll return to the 21st floor for a viewing of the exquisite Bastille Day fireworks around the Eiffel Tower.
Journal Entry: July 30th
It's my last day in the city and sadly enough, I will say goodbye to those who will return home, either here in France or back in the United States.
Unlike the usual Chanel, I awoke this morning without the inclination to visit "the sights"; in fact, I had opted to sleep in. Now currently, I'm strolling through an upbeat street market just down the stairs from my friend's apartment. Locals swing-dance to the sound of live music while couples sip miniature espressos near the cascading, mosaic fountain. With my breakfast in tow – a croissant, an apple, and a small round of cheese – I can't help but feel like one of them. My French is not quite fluent, I wear the rainbow sandals of a typical Californian, and I sport a softball t-shirt with English lettering. Yet I feel home.
If I'd been here two months ago, I'd be snapping photos of the idyllic Parisian neighborhood. But now, something about that action would feel awkward and interruptive. In this moment, I lack the urge to save memories for my relishing in the future. I want to absorb the atmosphere now in my final hours in my favorite city.
Looking back on the study abroad – doubtlessly the best summer of my life – I see how profoundly the program sharpened my strengths. With my team members, I completed the longest presentation of my life on a software I'd never used before. I improved my skills in public speaking, script writing, and time management. I was also named leader of my team, despite being the youngest (19 yrs).
Also, the traveling matured my independence and gave me new life experience for my future. I learned to organize dates, flights, hotels, and money without a parent's guidance. I navigated a foreign country and spoke French with locals and shop-owners at every opportunity.
The people of the program taught me about myself and demonstrated great teamwork. I learned from the stories of my team members to appreciate the opportunities in my life. I learned to gain from another's unique way of thinking and I grew comfortable with asking for help when I really needed it.
The place revitalized me and freed me from a mentality of non-stop achievement. About a month into my stay, I had worried that if I were to move to France, I wouldn't be able to reconcile my fast-paced, American, "Achiever" mentality with the far more leisurely speed of French living.
But in those last moments, walking down that vivacious and welcoming street market, I truly understood how to be content with just being, and not longing for the next to-do. I realized that every day of my life should not require the structure of a master checklist; rather, I could maintain my love for travel and adventure while simultaneously finding contentment in my environment's normal leisure and simple beauty.
This summer, I finally got the chance to be in the city I had longed to visit since the seventh grade, studying subjects that emphasize my foremost passions of innovation, business and science. I practiced the enchanting French language with individuals of my own age, and greatest of all, I found myself living in the moment as if Paris had always been my home. Someday, I hope to return and make it just that.