Episode 7: Paris, Je T’aime

To quote Charles Dickens, “what an immense impression Paris made upon me.”

I left the states unsure of what I’d find in Europe. I hadn’t ruled out the possibility of living my very own Lizzie McGuire moment, nor had I expectations to become fluent in French in just five months. Well, the latter isn’t entirely true. In retrospect, I’m shaking my head at how easily I was able to navigate the city using the limited French vocabulary that I learned in elementary school. My novaturient wishes were to find myself in the places I would explore, the scents I would inhale, and the people whose words and energies would stimulate my thoughts.

Packing my life into four suitcases, I bookmarked the states in my past and set off to see the grand trouvailles that would decorate my life for the next five months. Let me tell you this in all honesty– I was not disappointed.

I could write you a  novel with all of the tales of this semester, detailed with every inside joke and conversation that made me love the people I spent my travels with. Like that one time, rather every time, when I over-packed my carry-on past the 10kg limit allowed and had to give some of my things to my friend to keep so I could board the plane inconspicuously. When we celebrated the beginning of our study abroad and my 21st birthday on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower (and when Justin Bieber was having dinner at the table across from us during my birthday dinner). Those long, Tuesday night dinners at Napolitain and passing notes in 3-hour classes. And the countless amount of times my friends picked on me for trying to capture the perfect candid photo in front of national monuments and world heritage sites. Oh, how could I forget that time we went to an FC Barcelona match and spent the night on the cold floor of the airport waiting for our 7am flight?

The people I met on this trip, and the memories we shared, will stay with me forever. Words fail to express and detail all that happened in the course of five months. I’ve filmed several vlogs on this trip, and my final of this series will be around my home in Paris. I easily took the city for granted, not filming most of my adventures in the city. However, I filmed my last two days in the city of lights and some of my dear friends sharing their favorite things about the city. Because this project was the born in the midst of late night study session at so last minute, I was unable to film everyone that I wanted to (you know who you are)! But nonetheless, they made this trip what it came to be.

This is the final chapter and concludes concludes my study abroad episodes as I’ve written and filmed for you. Now, almost the middle of June, I’m in my new home in a new city, looking forward to spending my summer interning, meeting a whole new ocean of people, taking daring opportunities, and making more unforgettable memories.

I brought y’all to Paris, now come with me to Dallas.

Episode 6: Santorini & the French Riviera

Have you ever envisioned your own, unique individual place where everything is drawn to precision per your taste and preference? My place is set on the waterfront, an ocean of crisp, cerulean blue water with purity unlike anything else. Along the waterfront, gentle slopes with white Mediterranean-style houses connected with open, outdoor foyers leading to gardens of white, deep-red, and carmine pink flowers. The houses have arches and wooden accents, drawing a stark comparison to the blue of the ocean. Until just a week ago, my place was a fantasy; however, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience my place, and the place I’ve described to you is Santorini, Greece.

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Overlooking Oia, the upper side of Santorini, a few moments prior sunset.

I explored the largest island of the archipelago in the southern Aegean Sea with my sister and one of our close friends, trying to capture some of the beauty of the island through 24 megapixels. While the simple architecture itself was overwhelming on its own, I noticed a familiar feeling that reminded me much of my own Persian-roots. The kind and receptive people of Santorini instantly welcomed me to their hearth, a smile and gentle eyes on the face of those I crossed paths with. The island is populated with stray dogs that will let you play with them, particularly in Oia, my favorite part of Santorini and the upper side of the island, and at Perissa Beach, the popular black sand beach, where I found a stray and named him Demetrius.

We completed our ten day travels in the French Riviera, where I revisited Nice, Monaco, and spent a beautiful, sunny day in Cannes. My trip was a well needed break from the cyclical work cycle at my French university and the beautiful city of Paris which I’ve been able to experience over the past five months. However, I’ll tell you this much, as much as I love traveling to beautiful destinations, it’s not so much the places you go, rather the people you go with that make it worthwhile.

Edit: For copyright reasons, I can’t upload the video to YouTube. For the time being, watch my vlog on Google Drive. Filmed in HD, watch in 1080p!

Episode 5: Not Homesick

The final weeks prior to my exchange, I felt a hunch forming in the back of my mind about the complexities involved with living in a foreign country for five months. I thought about a lot of things. My Type-A, over-analytical self thought about having a hard time assimilating in country with a primary language I don’t speak, where “s’il vous plait” and “merci beacoup” could only get me so far. Then I thought about transportation: I’d have to take the Metro everywhere. Growing up in big-city Houston, where the city is so spread apart, everything is just a ten minute car ride away. I even thought about making new friends while keeping in touch with those from home. But the heaviest thought I harbored was that of homesickness.

Let me tell you a secret. I’m a family gal. I have an older sister who I look up to every day, I have a selfless mother who time after time puts my wants and needs before her own, and I have a loving and supportive father who gives me the world. But that’s not the secret.

Growing up I was in Girl Scouts, you know, camping in the wilderness, “do a good turn daily,” PTA-moms turned troop leaders, and the beginning of being your own businesswoman by going door to door and selling cookies. Well rewind to the first part, camping in the wild in the middle of nowhere, Texas. For the longest time I was horrified to go to a sleep-away camp because I thought if I wasn’t under the same roof as my parents, I couldn’t sleep. I know, logic, right? For one or two camping trips I went all-in with that strategy, staying up all night and begging the sun to rise again so that I could go home. For several years in elementary school this continued. I wanted nothing to do with sleepovers at my friends houses, Girl Scouts became a daytime hobby, and my bed was the only place I’d feel comfortable sleeping.

Fast forward to college where I go to school in a different city, travel on my own to different states, and do things like sign up to live in France for a semester. I didn’t think that I’d get homesick, but because I had heard horror stories of culture shock and homesickness, the idea festered in the depth of my thoughts.

More than half way through the semester, I find that I haven’t been homesick quite yet. I think it’s because I’ve found a home here in Paris, even though I’m just over 5,000 miles away from Texas. I love my white room with wooden paneling, twin bed and white comforter, twinkly lights at the rim of my wall-length window, and PSG flag at the door of my balcony. I’ve found a home in the way that I wake up thirty minutes before class and mosey down to T-building, where I more often than not run into friends along the walk over. I’ve most importantly found a home in the incredible people I call my friends, those who I most likely wouldn’t have met in my lifetime otherwise. It’s hard to be homesick when I know that I’m blessed to be in the position I am. I’m living in France for five months, where traveling across Europe is one cheap-plane ticket away. I’ve quickly realized that it would be selfish to be homesick.

I’m not homesick, but I’m sick. Like actually cough-cough, “where’s my medicine?”, sick. Who would’ve thought that before I became homesick, I’d just get sick. It’s kind of ironic actually, and kind of lame at the same time. It’s times like this where I realize that I took for granted the fact that the doctors office is two exits down the highway. Just prescribe me some meds doc, I’m over this. But it’s France, and the doctor is most likely away on the weekend, and maybe even on Monday because they feel like it. It’s Saturday night, my friends are out clubbing, and I’m laying in bed being sick. Until I get my medicine I’ll be resting and drinking lots of fluids. But at least I’m not homesick, right?

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When you’re sick in Paris. Courtesy of the MacBook Pro Photo Booth image backgrounds. Nailed it.

Episode 3: That Time I Was Almost Stuck In Germany

When something that seems unimaginable happens to you, naturally you share that occurrence with friends and family. They gawk as they hear the words coming out of your mouth, their eyes increasingly widening in disbelief. Now two months into my study abroad experience, I have a story to tell you that felt so unbelievable and overwhelming to the extreme that I had to take a break as I was writing it, as the stress from the story vividly darkened my memories.

There’s a handful of emotions that make my stomach feel as if it’s dropping to the ground—losing my passport the morning of my flight takes precedence.

6 am

My morning begins at half six, having five hours of shut-eye—a lavish amount as compared to the night prior. It’s Monday morning and I’m due for a flight out of Munich, back home to Paris, in just two and half hours. I have class back in Paris at 1pm and a presentation to prepare for that evening. I had packed my suitcase the night before, so my morning routine was limited to tidying up the Airbnb and changing out of my pajamas. My three travel companions, myself, and the sun are the only ones awake in the quiet residential neighborhood.

7 am

We call a taxi-cab and carry our suitcases out the door. After a final sweep through the flat, we leave the keys on the table and shut the door—a fleeting moment in time that altered my entire morning. Sofia, being the responsible friend she is, asks us if we have our passports and plane tickets ready. In that moment I realized that I hadn’t seen my passport since we arrived to Munich on Friday morning.

My calm expression quickly changed to one of urgency as I unzipped my suitcase and ransacked through the clothes and shoes I had packed. Suitcase interior—empty. Top flap—empty. Bottom flap—consisted only of my toothbrush, iPhone charger, and copy of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

7:20 am

My heart sunk to the pit of my stomach as every minute passed. A minute gone was a minute closer to the flight, and I had calculated every minute so that I would make it from the Airbnb to the airport in time. Running low on options I asked Sofia to phone the apartment owner and ask if she could bring a spare key to unlock the door. She agrees and charges a taxi in my name to reach the apartment and deliver the spare key.

By this point, my two other travel companions have to go to the airport. Sofia waited behind, keeping me company in what felt like a meltdown.

Do you know that quote that Einstein supposedly said, calling insanity the result of doing something over and over again and expecting different results? Well, in retrospect, that was me as I nervously checked my bag over and over again, hoping that I had overlooked a centimeter where my passport could have been hiding. Realizing that stressing over the situation would only make me more nervous, I collected myself and looked at my options realistically:

  1. The passport fell behind the wardrobe where my suitcase was positioned and all I needed to do was move the wardrobe to get to my passport
    • I make it to the airport in time
    • I don’t make it to the airport in time and need to catch the next flight
  2. My passport is lost and I need to get a new passport so I can return to France
    • Call the US Consulate in Munich
    • Take a 4×4 standard passport picture
    • Fill out two forms and receive a temporary passport in a few hours
    • Leave Munich in the next 2 business days

With my options laid out on the table, I prayed silently as Sofia paced up and down the stairs. Minute by minute passed and we waited, both eager for the arrival of the Airbnb host. We agree that when the host arrives, we’ll search in the bedroom of the apartment, specifically where I suspected that my passport had fallen out of my suitcase.

8 am

Sofia runs up the stairs, panting as she runs to unlock the door to the apartment. “She’s holding the cab for us,” she calls as she swings the door open. I drop my coat in the center of the living room and run to the bedroom, immediately looking behind the wardrobe where I had placed my suitcase. “I found it!” I exclaimed as I rush to push the wardrobe back in place.

We both run down the stairs and book it for the taxi, apologizing to our host as we exited the apartment complex. “Not a worry, these things happen,” she said, making me feel just a little better in that moment.

8:08 am

With 52 minutes left to make the flight, we sit in the taxi and are finally headed to the airport. Fortunately for us, our host had told the taxi driver my situation and he agreed to drive as fast as possible down the German autobahn and to the airport. Going 130 km/h, our driver zipped in and out of traffic, estimating that it would take 35 minutes to make it to the Munich International Airport. The entire car ride was spent in silence, as we both prayed for guidance and held our breath until we reached the airport.

8:45 am

100 euros later, we arrive to the airport and run with our bags towards security. Have it be Murphy’s Law, the airport security lined wrapped around the terminal in chaos. We sprinted down the corridor looking for another security lane. Moments later, we came across a shorter line where the passengers recognized our panic and allowed us to skip them in line. Every minute matters and we’re quickly approaching 9 am.

Though of course, there’s someone in front of us who slowly takes his laptop out of his bag and even more slowly struggles to separate the liquids in different plastic bags. Once he finally gets his belongs together, it comes Sofia’s turn to show her ticket and passport.

8:50 am

I sigh as it’s almost my turn to go through security, feeling one step closer to stepping foot on the plane. Once again Murphy’s Law came into action, as the person checking the tickets rejects Sofia’s plane ticket because it doesn’t have her full name written on it. She scrambles to connect to airport Wi-Fi to find the email with her confirmation. Once she finds it, it’s my turn to go through security and then to find our gate.

8:55 am

We find our gate and laugh nervously at the ridiculous events that have happened to us in the past hour.

8:57 am

The Transavia flight attendants come through the queue and tell everyone they can only bring one single bag onto the plane. I quickly confine my purse in my carry-on and wait back in the queue, only to find Sofia struggling with fitting her backpack and her purse in her carry-on. I suggest she hides her backpack under her jacket and sneaks it on the plane.

9:00 am

We get past the queue and joke that we had felt every single emotion possible in the past two hours: calm, nervousness, fear, desperation, faith, numbness, anger, happiness, thankfulness.

9:05 am

I step foot on the plane and find my seat, feeling as though I can finally take a breath. A kind man in my row helps me place my bag in the overhead compartment. Every ounce of kindness sent my way feels magnified as I am in the state of complete and utter gratefulness.

9:15 am

The plane takes off, exactly on schedule. I realize that I had just done what felt like the impossible. We left the apartment at 8:08 and made it through security by 8:55. I thanked God over and over again, counting my blessings and ready to return home to Paris.

As I wrote this I had to stop and remind myself that what had happened is now in the past, as the intense emotion I felt made my heart race just by recounting it. I learned several things from this experience, the most literal lesson being that I should listen to my dad and wear the money-belt-passport-holder he always makes me wear before every international trip. Had I listened to him, I would have never been in this situation. When you’re in a situation where your options are limited, it’s important to be realistic. Because you can’t change the past, it’s vital to list out your options and set a game plan.

Another valuable lesson is not to rush in finite situations. What I mean by this is when something is so finite, like locking the door of an apartment and leaving the keys inside, you shouldn’t rush past the moment. You should stop, make sure you have everything you need and all of your belongings, then go ahead and execute the moment. The same thing has happened to me at Metro stations in Paris: I buy a metro ticket, put it away in my purse or pocket as I walk through the turnstile to rush on the train, then when it comes time to leave the Metro station I can’t find my ticket.

It’s now Sunday, one week later, and I have just returned from Milan, Italy. You can bet your finest dollar that I wore my money-belt on this trip.

Episode 2: Lyo-Nice-Lona

You need not to spend more than a week abroad to understand that there’s more to studying abroad than just studying. Within the first few days, you shake hands with, kiss cheeks, and accept friend requests from over a hundred unique individuals. As a friend of mine jokes, it’s not about the stamps in your passport as much as it’s about the experience you have.

This past week I spent eleven days traveling by bus, train, and budget airlines across the French Riviera and finally to Barcelona, Spain. While I can recount my journeys and tell you about all the beautiful views I saw, food I devoured, and fruitful trips to Zara I made, I rather take you there through film.

I recorded every day of my journey in chronological order. I hope this inspires you, my readers, to view your every day adventures in a different light and open your mind to new opportunities.

Episode 1: Not In Texas

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Overlooking Istanbul, Turkey

Upon my departure from the states, the very first thing I noticed was the diversity of language that chattered around me. My initial reaction was utter amazement yet recognition: I had committed to a four month exchange program in a country whose language I’m all but familiar with, so naturally I would be forced to continually interact with the language barrier. While I travel quite often, I have never felt so estranged until the reality of it all hit me. What I was experiencing was just a side effect of culture shock, having left the familiar comfort of Texas and onto a four-month experience across Europe.

On the first leg of my flight from Houston, I sat next to a kind German lady who was traveling back home with her eldest son. Though we didn’t share a common language, we were able to connect through facial expressions and hand gestures. Every so often she would sprinkle a few words in English to the conversation, to which I would respond with excitement while registering how little I knew of her native tongue. Having crossed the Atlantic Ocean, I was now in Frankfurt and said my farewells to the lady as she wished me luck on my journey. Despite traveling alone and having abandoned my native tongue in the last few hours, I felt at ease in the foreign land, having known that her wishes for me were a part of a universal language. That is, the universal language where love predominates and there is supreme value in caring for your neighbor no matter your differences.

After a 3-hour layover and a 3-hour flight, I was finally in Istanbul: where I would meet my parents for a day and a half stay in the beautiful city. Not to my surprise, I was greeted by the same language barrier, this time in a country I had never been to before. Rolling along a black carry-on, I navigated my way through the Istanbul-Ataturk airport, relying on pictograms of arrows and suitcase symbols to find my way. Fast-forward two hours, I was reunited with my parents and we set for the hotel. While I could recount my story of exploring Istanbul with my lovely parents, the majestic Blue Mosque, the many friendly dogs wandering Sultan Ahmed Square, and seeing snow for the first time in 2016, that’s not why I’m writing to you today.

What I experienced was more than sightseeing. While I was far away from home and out of the loop on social media (the means in which I communicate with my friends), I was able to see what I normally would take for granted. Let me explain what I mean. In the states, the comfort of being able to communicate to anyone and everyone comes as second-nature. Whatever I need, I can express with mere words, not much stress would resonate on expressing myself through facial cues and hand gestures. Admittedly I am one to talk heavily with my hands, waving them out and about to express with enthusiasm what I’m trying to say. While this comes naturally to me, I could still express myself just as easily without using my hands. Therefore, it’s natural to take for granted the ease of communicating using a single-tool: words. In France, I lack the luxury of talking my way through a situation, as I don’t really speak all that much French. These past few days I’ve been relying on other tools to communicate: hand gestures, facial expressions, and the occasional sprinkle of French in my English sentences.

I’m now sitting in my room and reflecting on my day. At the Massy-Palaiseau metro station I lost my day-pass ticket and found myself stranded at the other end of the “sortie” turnstiles. I looked through my purse, unzipping and double-checking every pocket for the tiny piece of paper that would permit my exit of the station. Two men on the opposite side of the turnstiles watched me as I nervously shuffled through my belongings. Moments later, one of the men handed me his Metro card, motioning for me to scan it in order to exit the turnstiles. I took it from him and immediately thanked him in French, as a massive grin formed on my face. This little act of kindness echoed in my thoughts for the rest of the evening.

I was reminded of the kind lady on the plane who wished me luck; though we didn’t share a language we shared a feeling, rather, a moment in time where human nature reigned and complete kindness was the universal language. I thought to myself how underneath the different social orders, cultural contexts, and actual language differences, we all share a common ground in the way that we look out for each other. This sliver in time made me reflect on how beyond our physical differences, human nature is a cycle of shared common experiences, and the language barriers we come across are just the translations of that experience. The many different languages on this planet merely translate the underlying actions and desires we harvest. There’s love, hate, kindness, jealousy, envy, hope, compassion, fear, sympathy, and empathy to name a few. Though those are just words, the feelings and actions attached to the words are shared among the billions of people on this earth.

I’ve been in this beautiful country for just over a week and my fear of the language barrier has dissolved into appreciation. I’ve become friends with Americans across the states, Argentinians, an Australian (whose accent I could listen to all day), Brazilians, Canadians, two lovely Irish ladies, Italians (“maaaaa dona”), and Spaniards. I can honestly tell you that at all times I’m surrounded by people whose stories, languages, and experiences are extremely different than mine, and I am so completely thankful for that. The richness of all that surrounds me reminds me of how grand our world is and how there’s so much left for me to discover.

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My bottom line is this: don’t let the language barrier scare you. Sure, it’s a little overwhelming at first. But look beyond it, look beyond the words and look at the actions beneath them. Words are just translations of actions and actions are universal. We all share the same language, and that’s the language that will open your mind and feed you experiences.

I decided to combine yesterday and today’s adventures into one as it marked my last day in Paris and my first day in Rome. On Sunday morning, we started our day with breakfast at Angelina’s (right down the street from the Louvre) where I ordered the Angelina breakfast, complete with French croissants, pastries, sunny side up eggs, and rich Angelina hot chocolate. I could barely drink a quarter of the hot chocolate because it was so rich and velvety, but it was definitely something worth trying!

An hour later we walked over to the Louvre where, of course, we spent the next 30 minutes trying to get a good picture with the building and the massive triangle. Around the Louvre there was an abundance of French troops stationed to ensure the safety of the region as the Je Suis Charlie peaceful rally was occuring nearby.

Outside the pyramid at the Louvre!

Once we took our photos, we headed into the Louvre. I broke off from my friend and my sister and I set off to find Mona and check out some Islamic traditional art. I had seen the Louvre once before and after seeing D’Orsay’s collection, believe it or not, I honestly prefer D’Orsay to the Louvre. The Louvre had more Medieval and Neoclassical art and artifacts, where as Impressionism and Post-Impressionism were prominent at D’Orsay. Additionally, D’Orsay was far easier to navigate!

At sunset, we visited the beautiful Eiffel Tower. The tower was closed for tourists as the rally was occuring and the troops that would normally guard the tower were required elsewhere. For dinner we went to the adorable French cafe near our hotel and then set sail for the Seine river tour. Aboard the tour we saw all of Paris’ great sights and learned a bit of history in the meantime. Though unfortunately, Sunday night was the coldest night yet, and being on the Seine made it that much colder!

Today we said goodbye to Paris by doing as the Parisians do and we went to Ladurée for breakfast. I’m speechless as to how amazing my omelette was and how beautiful the interiors of the boutique and tea room were.

Enjoying pistachio macarons from Laduree on the way to the airport!

After breakfast we left for Orly airport and took off for the true city of love, Roma! We enjoyed a lovely Italian dinner complete with champagne and pasta. Now its 1 am and I’m hurrying to type this as I’ve a long and fun day ahead of me tomorrow, ciao!

The beautiful sunset on the plane ride to Rome, leaving Paris.
The beautiful sunset on the plane ride to Rome, leaving Paris.