A week before I left for my semester abroad in Paris, the list of things I was worried about could be condensed into one sentence: Where am I going to find good iced coffee?
I wasn’t necessarily anxious about culture shift, nor did I think I would need much time to adjust to living in a new country. After all, I was born in Paris. I’ve visited France several times since moving to the U.S., and my mom forced me into taking French classes as soon as the California public school system allowed it. Even more important than all that: I’m a New Yorker. If I can handle Manhattan in the midst of everything-smells-like-wet-garbage season, I can handle anything.
In short, I was pretty confident coming into this semester.
Then, two days after landing in Paris, my wallet got stolen with my credit cards, driver’s license, NYU ID and more than 100 euros inside. I’d been browsing stores with my mom when I noticed it was missing, and then spent the next three hours retracing my steps and desperately hoping it would miraculously appear at the cafe, in the store or on the sidewalk.
Losing the cash wasn’t the worst part, although it definitely stung. The worst part of the ordeal was explaining my situation to the shopkeepers, baristas and servers. With our combination of French and English, I was able to explain that I’d lost my black canvas wallet with red flowers, and they were able to tell me that no such item had turned up. Most people were incredibly helpful and kind, offering to sweep through stores as I ugly-cried in front of racks of diamond-patterned pants. Still, even the kind ones saw me for what I was: a dumb tourist who got pickpocketed.
I felt like a transplant organ being rejected by its new body. I know that I’m not French, nor will I ever be a native Parisian, but I’ve always seen Paris as inexplicably part of my identity. I thought I was better than the basic girl who came to Paris for wine and charcuterie platters. I naively thought that going abroad would help me find myself because, while home might be an incredibly hard thing for me to define, a place of birth is concrete, written in black and white on a certificate.
Since the semester started, I’ve slowly become more comfortable in my new environment. I made new friends who have their own quirks and struggles, and I even found a place that makes decent coffee. And when I’m feeling sad and rejected, the bakery by campus makes these beautiful roules chocolat framboise, which are like flaky cinnamon rolls layered with raspberry jam and chocolate chips. With each adversity I face, I find another eye-opening experience that would have been hard to find back in New York. For every stolen wallet, there’s a roule chocolat framboise.
These are the experiences that I hope to see and find in the Abroad Desk. Let’s face it. Going abroad is neither mandatory (in most cases) nor completely a waste. But NYU being the school it is, studying away is part of our shared experience whether we like it or not.
I hope that that the Abroad Desk will make it easier to share and remember these experiences, and I hope that my own semester away from home will involve more baked goods than petty larceny. Either way, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here.
Email Anne Cruz at [email protected]