Paris: The Dangerous Dream of Expectations

Zoya To
Zoya To describes her life abroad at NYU Paris, comparing her expectations to reality.

When you are meeting people during the first week at NYU Paris, it is easy to pick out the people who came here not for the city and its culture, but for reasons which disregard the very character of the place they are choosing to inhabit for four months. Paris is foreign, but it’s also a good starting point for traveling elsewhere.

It would be easy for me to condemn these people — but I am guilty of the same crime. When people why I choose to go to NYU Paris, I say I chose it because I learned some French in high school. But in reality, I chose Paris mainly because it was centrally located in Europe, and I — like many other unoriginal 20-somethings — simply wanted to travel as much as I could.

There is a romanticization of the traveler-type, the lone individual who has shrugged off their capitalistic tethers and seeks greater wisdom through an effortless nomadic adventure. This dream is visible in the popular and romantic Instagram pictures of silhouettes against mystical mountain ranges. In the recent years of rising debt and job insecurity, this simple dream of becoming the archetypal happy traveler thrives.

Of course, this is not the case for everybody. But ignorant optimists like me choose to pursue those Instagram fantasies. It’s a dangerous dream created from oversaturated photos and encouraged by word-of-mouth success stories.

It’s a dangerous dream, and I fell for it.

What I was worried about most before going abroad was that I wouldn’t like Paris. I was aware that I hadn’t chosen to come to the city for particularly studious reasons. I was wary of spending four months in a place that I detested. Still, I resolved to keep an open mind despite whatever first impressions I had.

In spite of all my doubt, I fell in love as I stepped off the plane and into the brisk Parisian air.

A friendly taxi driver took us from Charles De Gaulle airport through the heart of the city to the 11th arrondissement. He got a little lost, but the delay allowed me to see the city — and the beginnings of a deep adoration for its architecture and sunlit alleyways blossomed.

There’s a particular way that the sun’s rays scatter from behind the buildings — liquid light spills across roofs and cobblestone in a fine gold dust. The alley leading up to my residence looked exactly like a brochure — a painting of another world or a simple, unexamined image of happiness. I may not know much about Paris yet, but I still hold my hopes in sunlit ignorant optimism.

Email Zoya To at [email protected].

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