It is a truth universally acknowledged that any struggling writer must be in want of a Parisian artist life. In my second year the universe, but perhaps more accurately Ryerson University, answered my calls and granted me the opportunity to go on exchange in my third year to the Université de Versailles, just outside of Paris.
At the risk of sounding like any person who has studied abroad, I will unashamedly say that I had the time of my life on exchange. Most importantly, Paris helped me realize my potential as an artist. My newfound bohemian life began when I joined a writing circle at Shakespeare and Co, a famous English bookstore known best as the meeting space of literary greats like Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. It was like I stepped back into history and became one of them myself as curious tourists would stop by the room and take photos of us reading and critiquing each other’s writing. I exercised my new bohemian legs with a film camera in hand by exploring the hills of Montmartre, a former artist village populated by the likes of Vincent Van Gogh and Salvator Dali. I wrote on the terraces of historic literary cafes of the Left Bank like Les Deux Magots whilst pretending I was the Canadian reincarnation of Simone de Beauvoir.
Paris taught me many things outside the realm of art as well, including but not limited to how not to internally combust due to the stress of French bureaucracy, how to eat six croissants in the span of five minutes and not care at all about my increasing pant size, and how to speak French at a level that doesn’t leave me wanting to jump into the Seine. After opening a French bank account and learning to navigate the French school system all en français, I feel infinitely more independent and prepared to handle whatever the world can throw at me.
As delicious as the baguettes and cheese of Paris were, I admit that my exchange would have been nothing if not for all the beautiful people I met abroad. If I am ever in Belgium, Brazil, Australia, the United States, France, Honduras, Germany, Spain, Italy, Korea, or Mexico I know I will be welcomed by loving faces. We shared many great times together editing the best photos for Instagram, travelling the French countryside, and discovering Paris’ many free museums. The idea of borders and cultural boundaries do not exist after the relationships you forge while on exchange.
A lot of people use exchange to travel across their new continents but I would highly recommend getting to know your host city instead of hopping on a plane to a new country every weekend. Travel is invaluable but the ability to attend a new school in a foreign city is rarer than backpacking is. Take the time to discover quiet and hidden corners of your city and really learn about the language and culture of your host city. If you are interested in exchange, talk to your program director as soon as possible to begin to learn about your options for learning abroad. Applications to go on exchange are due January 31, the year before you want to go abroad.
If I were to sum up the seven months I spent on exchange into one word, it would be flâner, a French word meaning to stroll leisurely without a destination or plan in mind. I learned to flâner my way through Paris which led me to the best bakeries, museums, friendships, and parks one could imagine. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish to flâner down a Parisian street, taking in the intoxicating aroma of fresh pain au chocolate. Sometimes the nostalgia hits so bad that I wouldn’t even mind another ride on the urine-scented metro.
Many years after his youth in the city, Hemingway once said “there is never any ending to Paris” and I could not agree more. It follows you wherever you go.