Alexa is an international exchange student at L’Institut d’études politiques de Paris, better known as Sciences Po. She’s a junior at Rutgers University, where she was design editor of the daily student newspaper before leaving for France. She was also on the rock climbing team. She studies journalism, media studies, and French. Cats, hiking, and her Nikon D3000 are her favorites. You can find her jogging her way through every park in Paris. Follow: @alexawy1209.
College life was never really for me. Sure, I went through the motions of freshman year at my state university. I loved my roommate immediately. We went to stupid frat parties together. We spent my 19th birthday dancing around a sketchy arena in Trenton and getting splattered with neon paint. We even went to a football game.
In reality, though, Rutgers was never my first choice. I was the girl that got accepted into NYU and was destined to have a shoebox-sized apartment with a bunch of friends and even more cats. I’d write poems on the subway. I’d develop a sense of style.
There was nothing stopping me. Then, one day, my parents sat me down at the kitchen table and kindly mapped out the rest of my life for me. On paper, in my father’s handwriting, New York got real (expensive, that is). I accepted Rutgers’ invite instead. I saved myself and my parents a lot of money that day, yes, but I had ulterior motives. I realized I could study abroad for the price of a state school. It was a dealbreaker.
At Rutgers, I began to put the pieces of my life together. I spent the better half of my sophomore year at the Daily Targum, the school newspaper, where I worked with some of the most talented and dedicated students at my university. Simultaneously, I worked my GPA to a steady 3.75. Somewhere along the way, I developed an affinity for rock climbing, and I ran two half-marathons.
I wanted more, though. I liked my school, but it always felt a little too close to home, a little too comfortable. My house was only a 20-minute car-ride away. I used to joke that I should just bike home for the weekend, maybe eat a hot meal, see my family. Too easy.
The most memorable parts of college were the times I got away. I traveled to Morocco for spring break, while the majority of my peers downed mojitos in Mexico. Not to condemn that lifestyle; I’m sure if I had a big group of friends, I would have followed suit. The thing is, I’d much rather wander the streets of, say, London by myself. (And yes, I have.) After Africa, I spent a summer backpacking in the Catskills, and then wining and dining with my grandparents in Montreal. Last fall, I had the opportunity to attend a national media conference in New Orleans. To my dismay, nobody spoke French, but I did discover the Mississippi River and, simultaneously, the flattest view of the earth I’ve ever seen. I squinted, sitting on the river’s edge, blinded by sun and happiness.
I like getting out of my comfort zone. Admittedly, I am a shy and private person. Most people have never heard me yell, and if they do, they’re shocked. I write in my journal more often than I talk to people. But that’s not to say that I’m not interested in other humans, cultures, or places. In fact, I’m mesmerized by all the worlds and words that I still have left inside of me, that I still haven’t seen.
When I arrived in Paris, I felt all the freshman-year feels again. “Welcome Week” was reminiscent of my first few days at Rutgers, except they give us wine and cheese here. I made lasting friends, to my own surprise, but still manage to go along by myself sometimes. I maintain that there’s no better way to get acquainted with a new city than to get utterly lost inside of it.
I live with a host family. Admittedly, this isn’t for everyone, but I knew from the beginning that this is what I wanted to do. They’ve been wonderful. Patient, helpful, and unbelievably accommodating. I didn’t have to go through setting up wi-fi, dealing with a French landlord, or trying to fix a leaking faucet by myself, for example. The best part is, they’re really more like roommates, or teachers. It’s a blessing in disguise, the fact that they don’t speak English.
They invite me to eat with them, if I’m around. This week, I tried baby horse for the first time. In general, though, my favorite new French food is definitely bœuf tartare. The first time I ate it, I had no idea what it was. I think that willful naiveté sums up some of my best experiences. Escargot is a close second. And the wine isn’t too bad, either.
Last night, I went to see one of my favorite bands, Tycho, play just 15 minutes from my apartment. The instruments reverberated around soft French voices, humming along, arms shamelessly wrapped around one another, swaying in the cotton-candy-colored air, lighting their cigarettes indoors, embodying the city-of-love stereotype to the highest degree. C’est la vie, non?
For the record, I don’t miss football.