Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Author: jzemke

So what do you really think of Paris

As I near the end of my semester, I hear more and more frequently this question: what do you think of Paris? At work, I feel obliged to say to all the tourists that I love it here, this perfect city of love. Now don’t get me wrong, Paris is a cool city with lots of things to do and see, like any other visitor here will tell you. Instead, here is an opinion from someone who lives and works, not just passing through.

IMG_3089Each morning when I get up for work, I feel a mixture of dread and excitement. I dread the idea of squeezing into a packed metro car and the seemingly constant delays which happen no matter how much time you leave yourself. Yet, once you’re off the metro and walking through the streets of old architecture, chic stores, and smell of fresh bread, you remember why you like the city.

There are some days at work which are great. Polite and funny clients, good food, and not too difficult of projects, but others where you leave work tired and frustrated with a pounding headache. These days you have to work hard to see the beauty. After those days, I pretend I’m just a tourist, going to the iconic places such as the Eiffel Tower and thrive in the greatness of speaking my own language without fear of judgement. It makes the entire day better.

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And then there’s the weekends. I love weekend day trips. The Chantilly Castle, medieval villages, Versailles, museums, it’s great and makes it all worth it.


So truthfully, I enjoy Paris. It is not all the perfect city tourists see when they visit, my favorite places are the “real” Parisian spots like gardens or little cafes within the neighborhoods. It is easy to get caught up in the stress, rush through and not appreciate the beauty. Just step back for a moment and re-find the magic which drew you in.


Life Lessons in Paris

As I near the end of my semester, I realized while writing myinternship report that I had not taken time to reflect on my experiences. Sure I had told the stories, but what have I actually learned through my experiences? So I compiled a list:


Be as curious as a child:

In my daily life, take those new pathways in the city, explore a new park, or try that French restaurant down the road. It seems small, but the little moments can add up quickly. Give into your curiosity and see what’s hiding all around us.

Take a solo trip:

I always thought trips were best in groups, but traveling alone through Europe was a wonderful eye-opening experience. You meet new people, blunder through other foreign languages, visit new places, and discover more about yourself. I noticed that my choice of locations truly showed my inner motivation: nature.

Take time to know yourself:

Don’t stress as much about life, and don’t feel bad about taking small time-outs for yourself. Know your stress levels, figure out what inspires you, and do the things that feel right in your gut. Feel like reading a book instead of going out for one evening? Do it. Buy some wine and macaroons and curl up with that book. If you don’t know or take care of yourself, no one will.

We are all humans:

Yes it is easy to point out differences or make generalizations, but underneath the cultural differences, we are all people. We all have friends, family, job stress, and come with unique life experiences to share. Be open with people, for you can learn a great deal more by acknowledging similarities and listening to their experiences.

From Tourist to Tour Guide

This past weekend, I went from tourist to tour guide when a friend of mine stayed in Paris for the weekend. It was only for two days, so I showed the essentials of Paris:

The Louvre

The Champs-Elysees

The Arc de Triomphe


Going up the Eiffel Tower


Notre Dame of Paris


The Catacombes


Sacre Coeur and Montmatre (Artist Hill of Paris)


It was most interesting to see just how complacent and normal Paris life has become for me, with the comparison of another person experiencing life here the first time. I had forgotten how big of a shock the packed metro system was or the ever-present stairs to climb in and out of the metro. Most importantly, I started to notice my progress in French, with his commentary of being impressed by my level of speaking.

Valentine’s Day in Switzerland


Living in a huge city like Paris, life is always moving as if there is a continuous sea of people running one way or another. While it is exciting, it can also be stressful or lonely. Therefore this Valentine’s Day weekend I left for peaceful Switzerland, basking in the beautiful streams and gorgeous mountain views.

Earlier this week, I read an article about how technology can actually detract from the study abroad experience. Searching for places with wifi to have access to social media, posting every moment of the trip. In Bern and the village of Thun, I made an active decision to turn off the technology, only taking photos and appreciating the nature around me.

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No photo can truly show the magnificence of the Alps, the way the quiet streams sparkle under the sun as swans swim towards the mountains. The sun warms your skin, as you walk along and breath the fresh air and hear the birds singing above you. I climbed to the highest tower in Thun, seeing the landscape of forests, streams, and mountains unfolding before me. Moments like this make you reconsider what is important-collecting souvenirs with exciting stories or simply appreciating the experience.

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The Glories of Fontainebleau

One of the best things about Paris is the day trips outside of the City! For just a train ride between 1-2 hours, you arrive in this new world. This past weekend, a friend and I ventured out to the city of Fontainebleau, home of the amazing Fontainebleau Chateau. The pictures speak for themselves, showing the grandeur and beauty of this castle.


Fontainebleau was essentially the summer home of royalty in France leaving Paris to the gorgeous gardens, fountains, and forest which surrounds the chateau. We saw remakes of rooms which used to belong to Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, and many of the line of the “Louis” kings who reigned over France. Louis XVI (the Sun King) was not represented, for he instead built his own chateau Versailles, taking all of France’s money to do so.

That’s enough words, for the photos simply speak for themselves

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Paris: A City United

Arrival Day here in Paris was one of momentous historical importance here in Paris: the manifestation where more than 1 million people and 40 world leaders united in a moment of tragedy. Charlie Hebdo is a French publication which produces satirical-like articles and images. For many years, tension has been growing in France between Muslims immigrants and French natives, making some anti-Muslim images a tipping point for the tension. The attack was extremely targeted, meaning we as students are not in danger.

At the manifestation Sunday January 11, world leaders from around the globe stood together with the people of Paris, taking in the tragedy together.  A few days after the rally, we had a Boston University Alumni panel, where they each explained their perspectives on the attack and unification as a group. It was interesting, for each person acknowledged the importance of a moment where the French united, but each had a different view of why this unification occurred and what will happen in the future. Paris is back to normal, but it seems as if each person here is still trying to sort out the confusion of the matter and come to terms in their own way.


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