Five Things I Never Thought I’d Miss While Abroad

Monday’s commute was the most typical commute I’ve had yet. Almost got nailed by a motorcycle on the way to the metro (classic Monday).
Took the longer, scenic route to class, but the metro was backed up and I ended up late (classic Monday). But when the metro stopped unexpectedly over the Seine, instead of groaning, I snapped this picture.

Late to class, I ain’t even mad

Yep, classic Monday. Paris continues to amaze me in so many different ways, and it’s the little things like unanticipated Eiffel Tower views that make this experience unbelievable! But I’ve also reached that point in the semester when I start to miss things from home, and that includes the 5Cs. So, without further ado…

Five Things I Never Thought I’d Miss About Claremont (but definitely do):

1. Sweatpants

Nothing beats strolling to brunch knowing that sweatpants won’t be given a second look. There is a certain enjoyment that comes with this freedom, probably found on most college campuses in the U.S. On the contrary, I didn’t even bring sweatpants to Paris. I wore sports shorts to class one time and was checking over my shoulder for the Paris fashion police (at least it wasn’t during fashion week). When it comes to dress, the choice here is still yours, but Parisians set the bar high, and university students might even set it higher. This doesn’t have to be taken negatively; in fact, I am enjoying integrating into the dress code that comes with student life. Unfortunately, clothing stereotypes are common (sandals = American), and this doesn’t help establish Paris as a particularly accepting city. My conclusion so far: dress code isn’t good or bad, just different. But I miss my brunch pants.

2. Smiles

Smiling in southern California is a great way to greet someone at a store, when ordering dinner at a restaurant, etc. However, a wide smile upon entering a Paris bakery might get an odd look. This is just my impression, so I’ll speak only to Parisians, but the reason is that open expression of emotion is more limited here. Don’t take this the wrong way; Parisians are not cold in the slightest. I’ve received an incredibly warm welcome to this city, but interacting with strangers in Paris vs. southern California is very different. I definitely haven’t adjusted yet (why did the cashier look so stern, did I do something wrong?) and probably never will. I prefer the warm southern California greetings, and if the baker thinks I’m a bit strange for the occasional grin, so be it.

Shameless cheesin’ at Versailles

3. Deep Conversations

There is the stereotype of frequent 3:00 a.m. philosophical discussions at liberal arts colleges, but that’s not exactly what I mean. I’m thinking more along the lines of the foreign language barrier when discussing everyday issues. It is very difficult to discuss politics, race, gender, sexuality, and any other contemporary issue in a second language. My French conversation partner and I can usually manage to discuss the presidential election or communitarianism to a certain level, but the depth of discourse at the Claremont Colleges is pretty unmatched, and I miss it. My take-away: In any discussion, always consider barriers to expression your peers might face. Language plays a role, but barriers can take many other forms as well.

4. The Syllabus

Yep, the syllabus. I am still surprised that this was one of the first things to pop into my head for this post, but it’s true. I am enrolled in two courses with the Catholic Institute of Paris where, in general, syllabi are not distributed and presented on the first day of class. I am lucky in that the Institute enrolls a lot of international students, so both of my classes were actually able to send me course outlines, but it was by no means guaranteed. This actually makes sense: French students in the same discipline often take a set schedule of courses, so the syllabus loses its pedagogical value. Coming from Pomona, not knowing the content of my courses during registration was… frightening.

International Relations… that’s all I knew

And speaking of frightening…

5. Dining Hall Coffee

Okay, okay, so dining hall coffee isn’t that bad. This is only frightening on a personal level: I underestimated the profound depth of my coffee addition (scary, right?). But honestly, WHY is coffee in France SO SMALL? It started out cute, the casual “un café, s’il vous plait,” which designates the normal, miniscule shot of espresso with a meal or snack. But, as I now realize, this cultural norm is everywhere: espresso machines in cafeterias, in the IES center, in my homestay. Where is the steaming pot of coffee at breakfast, the half-and-half, the free refills? I quickly began craving a “café allongé” or an “americano” which both designate a larger serving that is usually available at cafés, but not always. Needless to say, I’ll never complain about a big mug of dining hall coffee again (or at least not for a long time).

But really… who needs coffee when you have CREPES!

Shameless cheesin’ part II featuring actual, beautiful cheese

À la prochaine,