This post comes to us Katherine Sypher from the University of Connecticut currently studying in Paris, France.
There’s something special about the exact moment your plane touches down in a new country. A swooping feeling swings your stomach out of place and sets it down roughly in the area directly above your bladder when you realize that all your days and weeks of day-dreaming and staring longingly at photos on Instagram have all led to this exact moment: the moment your plane’s wheels hit foreign tarmac. Gone are the hours spent wondering what exactly this experience would be like, gone are the days spent explaining to friends and family and bosses and general acquaintances that, actually, I’m not going to be at school next semester, I’m going to be studying abroad, yes, I’m so excited, yes, I can’t wait and yes, I’ll be sure to post tons of photos! This is the moment where you wonder: did I even plan for this at all? How the heck did I ever think I was ready for this? I wasn’t prepared for this strange swooping feeling, this sudden paralyzing fear, this sudden to desire to just loudly and definitively say “Nope” and get on the next plane home.
There is a difference between landing and arriving. The first time my plane touched down for my semester abroad in Paris, my plane may have landed, but I did not feel as if I had arrived. I walked through customs and baggage claim in a daze and boarded a bus with my fellow students and drove into Paris in a dark haze. It would be hours before I even knew what Paris looked like in daylight. I had landed in Paris, France, but I didn’t yet feel like I had truly arrived. That moment would come later.
Landing in Paris and arriving in Paris felt like two different things to me. Landing was easy– I didn’t even have to get off the plane! Arriving, though, is more difficult. Arriving is more about integrating into the culture, feeling like you’re (even just a little bit) of a Parisian. Feeling as if you have a small piece of the city that is uniquely yours, some small café or street corner that is as familiar to you as your hometown. Connected to the stones of the curb or the sound of the espresso machine that remind you that people actually live here– and now you do too. It’s the difference between feeling as if you just a visitor rather than a local.
The moment you feel like you’ve really arrived will be different for everyone. For me, it took some time. There were days when I would wake up and momentarily forget that I wasn’t at home in Maine, but thousands of miles away (cue the Swooping Stomach Feeling). A few days ago, I was sitting in a small café in Saint-Germain-de-Près. Across the small street was the Seine, recently flooded, and a little further, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and all around a rare snow storm passed over the city, swirling snowflakes obscuring the Haussmann architecture from view. I had been in the neighborhood buying textbooks for class when I had decided to seek shelter in the little café, trying not to drink my café crème or eat my butter croissant too quickly. I wanted to take my time, maybe write in my little travel journal or think about my plans for the week. I wasn’t in a rush; I wasn’t thinking about where I needed to be. I was in the moment: drinking coffee, eating my croissant, watching snow swirl around Notre Dame’s clock tower.
That moment felt a lot like arriving. There was nothing obviously significant about it: I wasn’t at the Louvre, or staring up at the Eiffel tower, or cruising on a river boat to down the Seine with an accordion serenading me in the background. It wasn’t a grand moment, but it felt like a genuine moment. I was doing something that every Parisian would do: enjoying a short afternoon break while admiring the city. I felt at peace with my surroundings, like I had every right to be there. Looking out over the Seine, I felt like I had finally arrived in Paris.