A violent bang of the train doors, as they swing open with the flick of a handle upwards. The chatter of hushed French voices in the train carriage – a language I’ve begun to be able to decipher. A woman playing Candy Crush on her phone, leaving me with a realisation that some things are quite universal. It’s Friday today. And hello, from Paris.
Prior to my departure, everyone was asking if I was excited, if I’d learnt any French, if I had packed… To be frank, I was beyond nervous about how the trip was going to turn out. As someone who thrives on certainty, I hated not knowing precisely where I was going to be, and even Google maps couldn’t save my anxiety. I ended up with several sleepless nights.
People will tell you so many things about what Paris is potentially going to be like. They’d tell you to visit all these cafes and museums, eat all these crepes and macarons, go take a boat ride on River Seine, be careful with your belongings, and most of all – always be safe. But nothing really prepares you for what to expect when you first set foot in Paris.
The first few days of the program were the toughest to get through – getting settled into a completely unfamiliar environment, and having to act as though I was so familiar with France was extremely tiring. No amount of independent living in Sydney for years could teach you how to get around on the trains, and no amount of planning could prepare you for the overwhelming sense of helplessness you face upon landing that would make you question why you came to begin with.
But when you hit rock bottom, the only thing you can do is swim upwards.
The long, arduous days challenged me to appreciate time even more greatly. In between exploring little alleyways for hidden creperias and tapping away at my phone in reply to messages from friends and family some 8 hours behind… I learnt to appreciate.
As a little girl, I’d dreamt about Paris – fantasised, even, about the day I’d see the Eiffel Tower in person. On the metro today, we caught our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower on the way to work on a clear sunny morning and it felt so surreal. It hit me that I was actually in Paris. For a moment, it made all the anxiety I’d felt over the past few days worth it.
Going on this program, you really have to ask yourself why you’re doing this, and know what you’re signing up for. I was met with wide eyes when I told my colleagues I was studying every night after work – they simply couldn’t believe it. When all my friends in Sydney tell me repeatedly, “Enjoy yourself! Eat more!” and my favourite one – “Enjoy your holiday!” I repeatedly try to convince myself that it’s a holiday, but is it really?
And yet, I know how much of a rewarding experience this is, and can be. With all these challenges in mind, it’s always good to remember – what doesn’t kill you will always make you stronger.