Why I Can’t Stop Studying Abroad

Hannah Benson
Notre Dame Cathedral, seen from across the Seine.

NYU students typically expect to start their first year under the arch in Washington Square Park, but I began mine in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe. My first year in Paris was filled with amazing trips and new, everlasting friendships, but what stuck with me the most was the Parisian lifestyle.

My concept of Sunday was changed forever. No longer did I wake up and try to be as productive as possible. Instead, I learned to sleep in, sip my coffee and stroll through nearby parks. I took in all the relaxation that Sundays had to offer. Being my first home away from home, Paris’s habits and attitudes altered my conception of adult life.

Anna Letson
The Seine River

It was not until I arrived in New York City sophomore year that I realized I had left Paris. On my first Sunday in New York, my roommates were all up and out the door before 10 a.m. I awoke an hour later to find myself alone. I spent the morning making coffee and basking in the light coming through the large common room windows. Leaving my building, I walked to Washington Square Park for my Sunday stroll. New Yorkers were rushing through as if it were a weekday, none of them stopping to take in the beauty of that strong standing arch. I was in New York, and I had lost my Parisian Sundays.

I have recently returned to Paris to spend my junior year abroad. I am excited to reclaim my lifestyle there, yet I know it will not be the same as before. Does “you can’t step in the same river twice” also apply to cities? Afterall — like rivers — cities are living, breathing entities. The streets may seem static, but the pedestrians pounding on the pavement change with the seasons.

I am trying to avoid the trap of nostalgia. Many of the people I met the first year who I love and care for are staying back in New York. I am living in a different neighborhood, trading the thirteenth arrondissement for the tenth. I’m trading the RER B for the metro line four. I am living with a host family, no longer surrounded by my classmates throughout the day. 

Anna Letson
A view of the palace from the inside of the Louvre.

After learning my new route to NYU Paris’s academic center, I took my seat at orientation. I met other juniors from NYU and students from other universities. Some familiar faces mixed with unknown ones. Returning to Paris brings me back to my first year, so accepting my place as a junior abroad felt strange.

One of the student life leaders asked all of the first-years to raise their hands. My hand moved a bit from my side before I realized I was no longer a part of that group.

Around 60 people raised their hands, some proudly, some tentatively. They looked older than I thought they would, or at least more mature than I was back then. I wanted to tell them everything they needed to know, but the joy is in the discovery.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 4 print edition. Email Hannah Benson at [email protected]

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