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.
Read more about our CEA Content Creators.