Rewind two years to fall 2014. Eryn Hoang is a first-year at Wheaton College. Having left Boston before starting middle school, she comes from a small suburban town close to and much like Norton and commutes to school every day. She continues taking French courses but doesn’t think she’ll major in the subject. She goes to the study abroad fair just to look around. Someone at one of the tables asks her if she’s thinking about going abroad, and she replies, “Of course!” with wishful eyes but a bashful smile because she’s only half-serious. She ends up bringing home a pile of pamphlets and information packets to fuel her daydreams, thinking they will ultimately amount to nothing.
Fast-forward to present day. Eryn Hoang is a junior studying in Paris, France. The French language as well as France’s rich history, art and culture surround her every day – at home, at school, in the streets and even in the metro. Because she has already lived here for two months, the city feels familiar yet new and exciting at the same time. Every day she still asks herself: “Am I really here?”
Before coming to Paris, I hadn’t been out of Massachusetts since I was 12 and out of the U.S. since I was seven. I had never been away from home and my family for more than a few days, not even for college, and now I’m away in another country across the Atlantic for four months.
When I finally decided that I wanted to study abroad, France made sense. Paris, specifically, made sense; I already had an inexplicable attachment to everything I’d seen, heard and learned about the city. Now that I’m here and have seen many famous Parisian monuments from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre to the Notre Dame Cathedral with my own eyes, I know that this feeling wasn’t wrong (my favorites so far are the Sainte-Chapelle and the Rodin Museum). I love having the freedom, opportunity and time to wander through different districts and quarters; to admire the architecture; to sit and read in the French gardens; to watch a play, ballet or opera; to try new restaurants, bakeries and pastry shops (I especially love crepes and macarons); and to discover Paris at night. There’s always so much to see and to do, and it’s exhilarating how easy it is to be charmed by the city’s sights and aura and to be swept away by the pace of life.
One of my friends on the program asked me one night at dinner: “Do you think your spoken French has improved?” Probably. Maybe. Hopefully. To be honest, I’m not sure. Even so, I definitely feel more comfortable; words seem to come easier and sentences flow more naturally. I’ve picked up new slangs and idioms that might or might not make me sound more legit and that I wouldn’t have learned in my classes in the U.S. This, I suppose, is a good sign because this is one of the biggest reasons I’m here – to practice and to improve my French.
So far, being away from home has been a rewarding experience for me – literally a breath of fresh air. I’ve been learning more about the world outside the U.S. as well as about myself. I’m becoming more independent, confident and daring, trying to make the most of my time here and to try as many things as I can. I want to do what the locals do, to explore lesser-known landmarks and areas so that I’ll get to know the city not as a tourist but as a Parisian.
Now that I’ve gotten a taste of the wonders of travel and of cultural exchange, I already feel nostalgic and more eager than ever to continue. The semester is only half over but I’m already missing Paris. Even though I’m still here and will be until the end of December, I can’t help but look forward to when I’ll come back someday – to the future that can’t come fast enough.