Jessica Pham

Globe Americas

My year in Paris has been one of the most monumental, character-shaping, and honestly incredible experiences I have had in my, albeit rather short, twenty-one year existence. I remember feeling a palpable sense of apprehension and slight anxiety before my arrival last August–and understandably so, as I was not quite as well-versed in conversational French as I would like to have been, and had never travelled to Europe, let alone off the North American continent. The prospect seemed challenging, for these obvious reasons, but more than anything, completely exhilarating. Since my first days, which to be quite honest, rather resembled a blur until I adequately readjusted to the time change, I can attest to the widely claimed fact that Paris is truly a unique city, a world that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else, and can completely enchant almost any person with its distinct charm. I had the pleasure of living with a wonderful French host-family my first semester and was therefore exposed to the kind of French hospitality that I probably would not have gained through the cafes of the city. They were, and still are, shapers of my experience here, as I was lucky enough to have spent months dining with them, eating and learning about French cuisine, and practicing my rather limited speaking skills. It was amazing to me that I could feel such a sense of home in their small apartment in the 19th arrondissement, even though I knew I was miles away from my own. I will cherish my time that I had spent with them, and am confident that I will keep in touch for many years to come.

Moreover, my time at Sciences Po was a very…enlightening experience. It actually proved to be one of the more challenging aspects of my time here, not necessarily due to the level of difficulty of the classes (which were more or less similar to that of UCSD’s) but the overall structure of the French education system. I found the rigidity of the professors, particularly grading wise, quite different from the American system that I am clearly accustomed to–I remember my political theory professor put the difference quite succinctly by stating that the “French way is to always point out the things you had done wrong”, while the “American way is to always encourages what you had done right.” This sort of mantra seemed increasingly apparent as I progressed through my year, but I found the difference after some time and adjustment, quite constructive. I also enjoyed being a part of a university with a much smaller student body. It was so interesting to be able to meet not only native French students, but also those from (quite literally) all over the world. These friendships, which have been cultivated by the shared experience of studying abroad, exploring Paris and travelling around the world together for a year, will be one of my fondest memories to take back home with me.

I feel so very fortunate to have had the chance to explore new countries and cultures, but also more importantly, myself. Of course, studying abroad presented its own set of distinct challenges–although I never really found myself to be ‘homesick’, there were definitely moments where I would find myself thinking about what events in my family and friends’ lives I was missing because I was here. The realization that I had missed a year’s worth of holidays, birthdays, weddings, graduations and other milestone events, struck me sometime at the beginning of this year, but I believe that it is one that will serve as a reminder to cherish such moments when I return back home. Moreover, there are small, rather obscure daily challenges that I had not quite anticipated–little things such as different working hours (this seems to still be somewhat baffling to me come every Sunday), overly crowded metros that you know completely violate all standards of safety, and general miscommunication with locals due to mispronouncing a letter in a particular word. But these things, as I would advise to any future students who will be in the same position, should be taken as part of the overall ‘ride’ of studying abroad. I believe that such seemingly unimportant ‘complications’ can slowly but surely help shape a sense of independence and confidence in one’s self and abilities. I have found this to be true in my own case.

It seems so very strange to be leaving after almost ten months in this city. I find myself thinking that even if I could live here for ten more years, I would still find new things to experience every day. The beauty and wonder of the people and places would still strike me. While I know that I will find my way back here (hopefully) in more instances in the future, I can see that nothing will be quite the same as my time spent as a student. I will always treasure and look back at this past year with the utmost fondness, knowing that my future return to this place will be that much sweeter.

Thank you so very much for these experiences, and so many others that are indescribable.

Jessica Pham
France, 2013-14