by Russell Willoughby
Sigma Tau Delta Study Abroad Scholarship Winner
Phi Xi Chapter, University of Alabama
Though it seems like hardly a month ago, it has been almost a year since I applied for the Sigma Tau Delta Study Abroad Scholarship for a year-long program in Paris, France. The generous award funded no small portion of my program and expenses in what we all know as an (outrageously) pricey locale. Living in a city that remains—for so many people, spanning so many periods—a paradigm of glamour, culture, and exploration is, most days, incredibly daunting. There’s just something about Paris: a world capital that was both a haven for the intellectual bohemian set of the 1920s and a beacon of couture, the city somehow seems to revel in dichotomies, while also defying them.
Now that I am at the half-way mark (!) of my year-long program, I am able to rattle off recommendations for restaurants and arrondissements and bookstores and order my lunch with minimal embarrassment; yet, try as I might, I will never be able to fully remove my Americanness in favor of a haute couture French identity. But I don’t want to! Though I can call myself resident, I don’t underestimate the humbling power of also being touriste. Some of my best conversations with actual residents (i.e. Real Live French People) have been centered on a mutual eagerness to know each other’s cultures. The French have a reputation of being frosty to ex-pats and tourists alike, but my experiences have only been warm and—even more importantly—authentic.
More than focusing on having a “traditional study abroad experience” (whatever that means), I strongly encourage anyone considering it to approach not only the decision but also everything that follows with a YES mentality, even—especially!—to the point of discomfort. Thanks to my new-found freedom from the fear of “awkward” (fittingly, there is no true translation in French) I have friends here from France, Belarus, Taiwan, Tunisia, Georgia (the country), Israel, Jordan, Sweden, and beyond. In Paris I’ve lost the comfort of college-town cloisters, but I’ve gained a sense of belonging that transcends country borders.