Blogger: Natalie Wilhelm

Location: Cergy-Pontoise, France

Hello Valpo friends! In this blog post, I’m going to talk about the fact that it has been exactly one month since my flight landed at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. One month since I moved into my then very lonely-feeling apartment with little more than two suitcases, a backpack, and forty-eight hours of sleeplessness to my name. This may have been the craziest, busiest, most up and down month of my life so far.

And already, there is so much I could tell you. What do you want to hear? Do you want to hear about my first trip to Paris, when I bought a Nutella crepe for three euros and walked around the cobblestone streets, taking in the beauty of the city? Or the first public presidential candidate meeting I went to for my independent study, where a young man came up to Lauren and me crying and asking for a place to stay? Or maybe I should tell you about how, for some unknown reason, French women have taken to Ugg boots like fish to water, making me feel like I have been plunged back into eighth grade again? (Seriously, they’re everywhere. Sparkly ones, high-heeled ones, silver ones, brown ones, black ones. Ugh, France. Just stop.)

The point is, there are so many stories I could write about, and it’s only been a month. I feel like I’ve lived in France for ages already. At home, going to classes at Valpo every day and seeing my friends and doing homework, a month seems like nothing. But here, I feel like it’s a significant milestone. I only have four months, two weeks and one day until my flight leaves for Chicago O’Hare, and I’m feeling an almost desperate need to make every single one of those days count.

I think I’ve gotten a pretty good start on making my days count, though. Sure, I’ve spent one or two afternoons binge-watching Teen Wolf in my apartment. But I’ve also gone to Paris. I’ve visited the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and all the good touristy stuff that the city has to offer. I’ve studied at the Centre Pompidou, which has the coolest library I have ever seen. I’ve eaten at cafés by myself. I’ve also cried, overwhelmed with homesickness. I’ve bounced back and forth between feeling incredibly motivated to work on schoolwork and never wanting to read another page about the French political systems ever. again. All of that is a normal part of moving overseas for six months. I’ve just been taking it in stride and seizing every opportunity for adventure that comes my way.

One such adventure was definitely participating in the Women’s March on Paris, an extension of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. There, I met French women who were part of different feminist activism groups, Canadian men with female dogs (“She’s a girl, too, so she gets to march today.”), and of course, young French women, all who were there to march in solidarity and support of women’s rights everywhere. It was truly a landmark in my life.

This roller coaster of a month has taught me something very important: you have to look at the big picture. Even at the end of a hard day, when you’re tired and miss your family and friends, you’re still abroad. When I collapse into bed, mentally exhausted from a six-hour long French class, I’m still in France. I’m doing something that many people may never get the opportunity to do. I didn’t let myself be limited by fear. Fear, in all of its many forms, is a great dream killer. It can invade you, without you even realizing it, and convince you to stop doing things. To stop pursuing your dreams, from leaving your comfort zone, from taking an opportunity that may come around only once in a lifetime, and change you in ways you never could have predicted. All you have to do is say, “I see you, fear. I acknowledge you. And I’m going to do this thing anyway.”

Given all that has happened in this first month, I can only imagine the stories, worries, adventures, challenges, and discoveries that are going to come my way before I step back onto a plane to head home. And I am resolving to welcome each and every single one with open arms.

A bientôt,