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 Back to SummaryKelly Vicars - Student Advisor Profile

Stanford in Paris, Winter 2010-11

MAJOR: Anthropology

MINORS: Creative Writing, Studio Art

Fun Fact: Studied abroad as a Sophomore and loves cheese.

 

I went to Paris because I wanted an adventure. To be sure, envisioning the “city of love” probably brings to mind images of the twinkling Eiffel Tower or creamy Brie on baguette or poodles and their owners strutting down the Champs (who walks who is always the question). These things that are so Parisian, I did find there. (Mainly, the Brie…) But in Paris I also found the adventure I was looking for, though it wasn’t nearly what I had expected.

It started on Day 1, when the Stanford student who was living with my host family and I decided to go to a yoga class. As Californian yogis, we both felt completely confident as we walked through the streets of the ninth arrondissement in attire suited for the 105-degree room in which we would be having class (i.e. very little). This elicited responses from passerby of the three-S variety: stares, scoffs, and suggestions. Yet, heads held high, we marched right on into the yoga studio, talking loudly in English, attempting to communicate our class preference in English, and being swiftly guided into the French-only class. Multiple things happened in that tiny, dripping, stench-filled room (yes, this was the single case in France in which its citizens lived unflinchingly up to one of their negative stereotypes): 1) we fell in among the rows of stretching Parisian men and women, wearing far less and looking far more disheveled than we would ever see Parisians look again; 2) in attempting to go about the class our way, we were guided, or rather, ordered what to do by the instructor, who spoke loudly and in English, to the chagrin the whole class; and 3) we were humbled, and forced to fit into this city that we were coming to see was just as enigmatic, to us Americans, as it was beautiful.

I stood still in the opulent halls of the Louvre, and happened upon the loveliest Cathedral I have ever seen.

Our adventure continued. Merissa (my house-mate, yoga partner, and now meilleure amie) and I explored the mystifying metro tunnels in the dead of night, their walls echoing with the hollow clicking of our heels and anxious laughter. We walked among vaulted tombs in gray Père Lachaise cemetery, where we glimpsed a black cat peeking from among the gravestones. We devoured our morning pain au chocolate, gaped in wide-mouthed delight as cheeses passed across our host family’s dinner table like rush-hour traffic; tried escargots, steak tartare, and once (and only once) foie gras sushi. We waited in hushed anticipation each night to be called from our rooms for dinner with our host family (weeknight dinners were truly the gastronomical highlight of Paris.) I met mes amis at cafés where we discharged our indignation at how bizarre and insensitive French men and French culture could be. I cursed small, French dogs.

I went to an American café and ate pancakes when I really missed home. I set off on my own on cold and quite Sundays. I got lost down side streets. I stood still in the opulent halls of the Louvre, and happened upon the loveliest cathedral I have ever seen, St. Etienne du Mont, and thought deeply about religion. I let myself out the apartment door into the early morning winter light and fell in amongst the silent ranks of runners at Parc Monceau. I listened, and listened, and listened; at cafes, on the metro, to the city. I watched furtively to catch someone’s smile of secret amusement as they sat and read the paper (and caught one, twice). I spoke in French, argued in French, joked in French. I sat amongst French art students in a painting class at an art preparatory school in Saint Germain, and grinned.

In Paris I gained life-long friends, a deep appreciation for an artistic and intellectual culture, and, admittedly, a vast knowledge of cheese.

And then I cried. It was at the end of my ten weeks in Paris, as I was walking back from class to go home. I cried because I felt like I was leaving a friend. Paris didn’t feel like a city; it felt like a person, someone who I had not loved at first, who had not instantly won me over with her beauty and arrogance. I had been forced to get to know Paris slowly. I had to coexist with Paris, get mad at it, get lost in it. And now that I had, I was indebted. I loved Paris. It wasn’t the kind of love you hear acquaintances gush about after vacations there. Not the, “oh, we just loved Paris” type of love. No, I had a relationship with Paris. It is a beautiful city - that much is obvious. But its real beauty extends into the depth of its culture, the subtlety of its habits, the conviction of its ways. It had taken me ten very busy weeks of futile eavesdropping, camouflaging in all black, and wandering side streets to understand it. And I can’t say I completely do. But what I do know is that Paris gave me the adventure I needed. A run for my money at times, but an incredible experience most of all. In Paris I gained life-long friends, a deep appreciation for an artistic and intellectual culture, and, admittedly, a vast knowledge of cheese. These things will stay with me until the time I know I’ll return, and get to know it all over again.

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