Every year, the number of students who decide to engage in the Erasmus program increases. The main reasons why many young people - like me - choose to study abroad are: learning or improving a language and, of course, the appealing idea of living in a vibrant European city.
There are many questions which come to mind while getting ready for your new experience, and one of the most important - if not the most important - is to choose the place where you are going to spend the next six months - or, in some cases, the next year - of your life.
Paris is a well-known city: many people from far and wide travel to the French capital to take selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower, taste a colorful pack of macarons in Ladurée and wear berets. But that's not Paris. All these experiences are clichés which have to be left behind if you want to live here as an Erasmus student - or as a normal individual with a good mental health.
I would like to blame Emily in Paris for setting my expectations too high. However, since I arrived here I've found there's some sort of marketing around this city that makes you constantly think you're not enjoying Paris as you should. What if you don't like berets? What if you don't want to look good every day? What if you don't have enough money to fulfill what you came to fulfill? Because if being a Parisian is what you came here for, let me tell you that will never happen. And I wish someone had told me this before.
From my point of view, the Mecca of baguettes is not a cozy city. It is beautiful, (expensive), exciting and also lively, but not very welcoming. That means the only thing will keep you safe from being sad and feeling alone is simply trying not to act under the guise of a Parisian. Just be the same person you were before you set foot in this hostile territory, and you'll see how everything starts to become less difficult.
When I realized that the trouble was in my mind, the game changed. If Paris was only an atrezzo that help you increase your followers on Instagram, do you think such interesting and intelligent people like Hemingway or Cortázar would have stayed in this city for so many years? Furthermore, do you think they changed the way they were just to fit in? Actually, I strongly believe it was Paris which transformed when they arrived and wrote about it.
Paris is a gold mine of culture, literature, arts and music: it is up to you to extract whatever you want from that mine by writing your own story. If you feel you don't belong here, try to erase the bullet list you have to accomplish before you end your Erasmus program and give yourself the chance to enjoy the experience day by day. Nor should you pressure yourself to expand your wisdom just because you are in an exchange program.
Paris differs from other European capitals in that, since the beginning of time, Parisians have believed and spread the idea Paris was actually different. According to the World Cities Culture Forum, there are 111,678 international students in Paris, which, in fact, means there are 111,678 people in the course of drawing their own sketch of Paris and, what's even better, 111,678 different ways of interpreting Paris.
Before coming, I looked for a lot of quotes about Paris on the Internet, such as "An open window in Paris is all the world I need" or "A bad day in Paris is still better than a good day anywhere else", which helped me to create an idea of what was waiting for me.
Now that I know what is like to live in Paris, I prefer Jules Renard's saying: “Just add three letters to Paris, and you have paradise". This is to say that Paris is not a Paradise by itself, because it's you who have to put the rest of the letters.
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