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Three Weeks in Paris, One Important Lesson

College culture in the United States is built around schedules and objectives. Detailed and thoughtful planning is constant: classes you need to finish your major (and probably triple minor), an exercise routine (for some reason I still haven’t figured this one out), which nights of the week you can go out (FOMO is undeniably real), and what internship you will have next summer (better be paid). When it came to study abroad in Paris the planning continued: where will I get class credit, where are my friends going, where can I speak the language, how easy is it to travel, and how can I avoid bankrupting my parents?

  I even got on a plane to Paris with a plan: I knew where and with whom I was living, I got all of my classes pre-approved, I had weekend trips planned out; even down to which pictures I would Instagram and possible captions. When I arrived in Paris, there was an unexpected interruption to my “perfect” plan. I opened my agenda to write down the details of when orientation was, when classes started, when I would be able to make it to the gym, by what date do I need to find my French boyfriend and suddenly I was having to pencil this in and cross that out. I would try to plan a day, or even a week, and the sequence of events would somehow end up unraveling drastically differently – I would end up lost in a far away arrondissement, spending too many hours of the day eating, or stopping in one too many stores. I tried making myself a to-do list: get school supplies, go grocery shopping, book flights. Somehow these tasks that should have taken me a half-day took me two weeks as other activities, either more or less important than my to-do list, got in my way.


They say, “Life happens while you’re making plans.” This has never rung more true than it has abroad. The contrast between a dining experience in Paris and that of one in the States represents a change in mindset that being abroad stimulates. In the U.S., most times, you go to a meal with a focus on the logistics: how fast and attentive is the service, how good is the food, did I get out quickly enough to get to my next planned activity? We, as Americans, constantly refer to meals as “quick bites,” that are just a part of our plan. In Paris, a meal is focused on the experience: Meals are time spent with friends and family, waiters are mysteriously absent, service seems leisurely, and I find myself constantly losing track of time. While we’re making plans for our next activity, life is happening during our meal in Paris.

  In my short three weeks so far, I have learned to adjust my definition of “planning” and “goals.” Rather than setting objectives and having a to-do list, I try to have a broader vision of how I would like my day, week, and semester to go. I set less tangible goals (might have to let go of that French boyfriend plan considering my French is limited to “Bonjour” at the moment) and more experience-oriented goals, rendering me more conscious of my opportunities and experiences abroad, rather than the plans I’ve made. But I haven’t given up hope on all planning and organization—soon to come: organized lists about all of my less-organized adventures.


Samantha Brown is the Fall 2015 MOJO Blogger in Paris. She is currently a Sophomore at Vanderbilt University.

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