By Mariana Matias
I went on the French LBAT in Summer 2017 with a group of about 25 students. We stayed in Paris for around 8 weeks and had classes on weekdays. The real surprise came when I found out that France has a lot of national holidays in May and June, so we ended up having a lot of extended weekends sprinkled throughout our stay. Naturally, students took advantage of this fact to travel around Europe to countries like Spain, England, Germany, even Norway. I, however, did not step foot out of the country.
I made it a point to stay in France, specifically in Paris, as much as I could. I knew from the start that I was adamant about keeping up with my goal for this trip: learning about French lifestyle in a city that I romanticized. Specifically, this meant practicing French in an everyday setting, participating in community events, and engaging in French customs. I wanted to know the inner workings of Paris as a Parisian. I wanted know the nuances about the metro system, know where Parisians hang out after work, know the best café study spots on the left bank of the Seine.
I won’t say I didn’t feel like I was missing out when other students Instagrammed tapas in Barcelona or snapchatted themselves biking through Amsterdam. I did feel an urge to explore neighboring countries, to take advantage of the plane ticket to Europe. But that feeling made me get creative with my days in Paris and challenge myself to live like a local.
One of the best habits I made was taking daily walks, sometimes to a specific destination or sometimes wandering aimlessly through small streets and scattered parks. It was a great way to bond with students and to embrace the city. I remember one of our morning walks to the Jardin des Plantes. We wanted to get some steps in before the city woke up. On our way through the garden, we stumbled upon an outdoor exercise class and spontaneously joined the circle. Everyone was very welcoming and we got our muscles nice and stretched for the day. It was a pleasant surprise that came out of a seemingly mundane routine.
Another one of our dreamiest walks through the heart of Paris included a tour of the Quai Saint-Bernard. It was a deliciously calm Sunday afternoon and we found tiny amphitheater-like scenes on the banks of the Seine, perfect for lounging. So we stayed and enjoyed the atmosphere as salsa started playing in the background. It turns out that every Sunday, pairs come to dance to all types of music. Obviously, we couldn’t let this opportunity pass us by so we joined in too!
Daring myself to find niche activities and live like a Parisian pushed me experience so much more of Paris than I would have done otherwise. I went to a free short-film festival, bartered for rings at a flea market, took part in the Paris 2024 Olympic campaign, canoed in a national park and had picnics in my favorite plaza. And that’s just a taste of all the things we did in Paris. There’s an incredible amount of events open in such an influential city that its a shame to leave them untouched, and I’m thankful I decided to stay in Paris and live the city to its fullest.
My most cherished memory would hands-down be reading by the Seine. My friend and I bought the first Harry Potter book, The Sorcerer’s Stone, in French and read it out loud to each other by the most iconic river in France. This made us both practice our reading and pronunciation of a language in which every other letter is inexplicably ignored. It also made us get out of our room, which sounds more difficult than you would think. It’s easy to be too tired after class to go out just for a stroll, but having this reading ritual made us take advantage of our location. We would grab our book, maybe buy some French cheese from the market, and a refreshing beverage to fit in with the evening riverside tradition. We would read, talk about our lives, and people watch for hours.