When the time came to decide where to work for placement year during undergrad, I had two criteria – abroad and in infectious diseases. I didn’t care where I just wanted to go somewhere; this left two projects out of hundreds in Paris or Cornell University. Paris was practical, cheaper, no visa stress and the project was more suited to my then career goals – trying to find cures for diseases.
Once I have set my mind on something, I find the confidence to take a chance and the universe conspires to make sure it works out.
I remember boarding the Euro-star to Paris , coffee and suitcase in hand feeling very nervous but mostly excited. I did not know anyone and I was the only student going from my university. All I had, minus my bags, was the address to where I was going to stay, the directions for how to get there on the metro and the address of where I was going to work* (and my basic french – AS grade D, that class was the only time a teacher made me cry, like actually made me believe I would not do well and I was so happy I did not fail).
I had visited Paris the previous weekend with my little brother/body guard to make sure that the house I was staying in was real and not some sort of brothel – this was after Taken had come out, which I did not watch until I was firmly on British soil again. Having inspected the place and paid my rent; accommodation was ready.
When I arrived at Gare du Nord, I put my big girl pants on and headed to the taxi rank practicing saying the address on crumbled paper I was clutching in my hand. When it was my turn to take a taxi I started out well, “Bonjour monsieur” he said hello back, something about taking my suitcase and I said merci and entered the car (I think I got this french thing, I thought to myself). He asked where I was going and that where it went down hill “Boulogne Billancourt” he looked rather confused, I attempted two more times before I passed him my scrap bit of paper. He smiled, ahhhh and drove on.
Driving through Paris to this day gives me goosebumps, the Eiffel tower no matter how ugly people say it is, it always reminds me that dreams come true. I remember reading about the Eiffel tower in sunny Zimbabwe when I was younger and each time I see it I am amazed that this thing I was seeing in a encyclopedia is real and that I am seeing it with my own eyes.
When I arrived at the apartment that I would be staying in with 7 other people, I settled in and went to the supermarket to get some bits and that was the beginning of my Parisian life. Just like that no song and dance, one day I was at home back in Essex enjoying summer next I am living and working in Paris for 10 months.
The next few days (weeks and months come to think of it), were filled with awkward encounters with the French language. The laboratory I worked in was french and so the language of lunchtimes was French, my first few days I tried to avoid eating lunch in the canteen and either skipped lunch or sneaked it into my office. At some point I decided it didn’t matter if I didn’t understand, I took french lessons (one of the classes I was partnered with a Chinese girl who spoke no English..) and met some wonderful people who were patient and accommodating. Most mornings I took one of the free newspapers and underlined every word I didn’t know. I would then spend the first minutes at work having my coffee and chouquettes (next time you are in a french bakery, ask for these – you’re welcome.) whilst looking up all the words.
A few months in I could go to restaurants, super markets even the pharmacist ordering, asking questions, I even had people asking me for directions which I could answer IN FRENCH which were definitely high 5 myself moments. I could listen to lunch discussions and sometimes even add my two cents though most of the time I was always a few seconds behind as I would be translating.
My leaving party at the lab was all in French, I spoke French the whole time the progress was crazy. That was my proudest moment of my year in Paris, having lots of french pastry and speaking french. Sadly I have lost some/most of my language skills and most importantly my confidence to make a fool out of myself in the language.
Paris is a reminder for me to always trust my gut and to always take a chance on myself. Paris is, is a reminder for those moments that I need it, that I got this.