Postcard from Abroad: Exploring Paris, France

By Laura de Matos Leal, Contributing Writer

Laura de Matos Leal ’25 (Photo Courtesy of Laura de Matos Leal)

When I arrived at Gettysburg College, studying abroad was not in my plans. As an international student, I felt that I was already experiencing education in a different country, so the idea of committing to a semester-long exchange program seemed redundant. However, by my sophomore year, after being introduced to the various programs offered by the Center for Global Education and seeing some of my friends undergo transformational experiences overseas, I decided to give it a try. This decision, combined with my pursuit of a third major in French Studies, led me to commit to spending the spring of my junior year in France. As someone born and raised in a major city, I was craving urban life, and Paris seemed like the perfect choice.

I still cannot believe I get to call Paris home. Having been here for over three months, I have already experienced so much. I was here when France decided to constitutionalize the right to abortion, becoming the first country in the world to do so. I have witnessed the city’s preparations for the upcoming Olympic Games, as it readies itself to welcome tourists from all around the globe. I have also experienced metro shutdowns due to grèves—strikes—a word that’s become all too familiar here in France. The everyday moments have been just as memorable. I pass by the Eiffel Tower on my way to school, savor a variety of French dishes and cheeses and always look forward to exchanging stories with my host mom about our days over dinner.

Most importantly, I want to leave you with some advice and thoughts that were pivotal to my experience:

(Photo Courtesy of Laura de Matos Leal)

  1. Travel, yes, but do not let it overshadow the time you spend exploring and getting to know your host city. For many, being abroad for the first time, especially in Europe, can be overwhelming with the constant temptation to visit a new country every weekend. However, I like to think that I will always have the opportunity to come back to Europe as a tourist. Yet, I may never have another opportunity to explore Paris as a Parisian. Take advantage of being a local in a new place!
  2. Learn the language of the country where you will be living. If it were not for my knowledge of French, I might not have fallen in love with Paris as deeply as I have. Speaking the language has allowed me to understand French society better, meet locals, enroll in classes at a local university, and engage in conversations—they love heated debates. Even if you are not fluent, make an effort to learn the basics. Being able to say “bonjour” and ask for help can go a long way.
  3. Step out of your comfort zone to meet new people. It is wonderful to share this experience with friends from Gettysburg who are studying abroad in the same program, but forming new lifelong friendships here has been equally rewarding. I would honestly encourage you to go somewhere different than them. My two best friends and I are now on three different continents, and I could not be happier for them, or myself, knowing that we are each pursuing our interests and traveling to the countries we have dreamed of. I miss them, but I can not wait to be back on campus together to hear all about their adventures!

This article originally appeared on page 20 of the No. 2 April 2024 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.

Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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