Editor’s Note: In conjunction with the Office of International Education, The UTD Mercury is highlighting the adventures of UTD students who study abroad. In this installment, Laura Rashedi, a senior biology student, shares her experiences in France, where she spent six months studying.
ORLEANS, FRANCE – The first thing that I saw when I arrived in Paris, France besides all the miniature cars, was the Eiffel Tower peeking above the skyline. Like a true American tourist, I immediately squealed in delight and demanded that we visit. My welcome wagon rolled their eyes and laughed. From that point on, it is safe to say that I became the comic relief.
Within hours of my arrival in France I managed to spill a tray of food all over a nice Frenchman, and within days of my arrival, I managed to ask my new host’s mother about a bad word a conniving young boy had taught me. Luckily, she took it in stride and forgave my ignorance.
I spent my first month living in Versailles and commuting to Paris each day. The bus to the train station passed by the Chateau of Versailles, a sight I never tired of seeing no matter how early it was or how badly the August heat wave made our bus into a sauna. By day, I explored Paris museums and tried to desperately overcome the language barrier that four years of French in the United States did amazingly little for. I learned the key phrases quickly. Je cherche. I am looking for. Je ne comprends pas. I don’t understand. Huh? Huh (surprisingly international). Le toilet. The toilet (same spelling, different pronunciation).
By the end of the first month, I had successfully visited the Louvre at least three or four times, sat in front of Rodin’s “The Thinker,” climbed the stairs to the bell tower in Notre Dame, painted miserably along the Seine River, paid 10 euros to see Napoleon’s tomb, watched Parisians stand in line for hours to purchase a $100 14-inch fan, and finally, when I needed a little American culture, I watched “The Matrix” in French.
I spent my remaining months in Orleans, just a short train ride from Paris. The city’s claim to fame, Joan of Arc, graces the city square in the form a statue. She saved Orleans from the English in the 15th century. After only a week in Orleans, I could recite the story of Jean d’Arc, including pertinent dates and names of the key players.
Only a five minute walk from the Orleans city center, I spent time reading and walking along the banks of the Loire River. I followed the river each week, by train of course, to the chateaus of the Loire Valley. I no longer have enough fingers and toes to count the number of chateaus I visited over the course of six months. Each had a personality and a history all its own.
I made sure to profit from being in Europe. Student discounts and starvation during the week allowed me to travel to the south of France, Germany, Austria, England and Italy.
I will never forget the feeling of seeing Michelangelo’s Pietra in St. Peter’s Basilica, or my awe as I approached the Coliseum in Rome.
The task of summarizing six months of my life in Europe seems daunting, if not impossible. The experience taught me a whole new language and culture while giving me a new perspective on my own. Though at times I seemed to barely survive, the friends I made, the sights I saw, and the things I lived through amaze me. Even though the French got the chance to spend six wonderful months correcting my accent, I definitely think I got the better end of the bargain.
P.S. French people do NOT hate Americans.