Paris in the Spring – Photos

This is a collection of photos I’ve taken over the past couple of months. Some of them have small stories or descriptions attached, others are more self explanatory. Most of them come from essentially “normal” days here in Paris, meaning that I never went too far out of my way just to get a photo. Enjoy!

Monuments

Most of the monuments in these pictures are there because they’re easy to spot on any sort of daily walk. Especially since my apartment and university are centered well in the middle of Paris, it’s easy to only have a five or ten minute detour and run into the things seen here.

The Hôtel de Ville
The Eiffel Tower seen from the Place de Trocadero
The Notre-Dame seen from the right bank, near Shakespeare and Co.
Advertisements
The Sacré Coeur Basilica on Montmartre

Montmartre is the biggest detour from the normal area I tend to be in, but it is completely worth it (clearly).

To check out a past article I wrote about Montmartre and the Sacré Coeur, click here.

Shakespeare and Co. during the redbud bloom.

I wish I’d gotten more pictures with the pink flowers around the city because it was amazing, but they of course disappeared quickly.

Advertisements

Just things along the road

This photo is right near one of my favorite spots to sit outside and have lunch. To the left of this road is the river Seine, and to the right is the main AUP building. About a block down is Apollon, a Greek restaurant that has the best Gyros.

A government building near my apartment
A mural near the Notre-Dame
Advertisements

The area I live in has a number of these murals on different electrical boxes and things around. I’m not entirely sure if it’s some sort of commissioned beautification project, or if it’s just graffiti no one has bothered to clean off, but I like them.

A really neat sign near my school. Roughly translated, it means, “Maleville Cabinet and Carpentry Company”
A poster for a nearby contemporary art exhibit. For me it serves as a reminder that other countries are thinking about the US often.
Advertisements
An alleyway that leads to one of the buildings for my university
A road near my university. I try to walk it frequently because I love the view of the Eiffel Tower.
Eglise Saint-Jean de Montmartre

If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing this post and subscribing to the mailing list for The Road and the Tree. You’ll receive mail alerts whenever a new post is published, and it keeps me motivated to keep writing!

5 Cathedrals You Need to See in Paris

Though a picture of the Eiffel tower might be the first to pop into your head when you hear the word “France,” that idea is relatively new. Before the tower’s construction in 1887, people from around the world thought not of one massive metal structure, but of the more than 100 cathedrals scattered throughout the country, the most famous of which being of course the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.

The Notre-Dame is currently under construction from the fire a couple of years back, but there are still plenty of cathedrals still worth seeing in Paris if you make the trip. From stained glass to massive tombs, these are the five cathedrals you need to see in Paris.

1. The Sainte-Chappelle

The Sainte-Chappelle (or literally the Holy Chapel), is probably one of my favorite cathedrals to visit. It is located on the Île de la Cité, only a few hundred yards away from the Notre Dame, and because of this it is often overlooked. It is relatively unassuming from the outside, and is surrounded by much newer buildings that obscure the bottom portion of it to begin with. But the outside isn’t what makes this cathedral so gorgeous.

The inside of the church is one of the most brightly colored and absolutely stunning places on earth. The ceiling is painted dark blue like the night sky, with thousands of golden fleur-de-lis spotting it all over like stars. (The word ceiling comes from the French word for sky, “Ciel.”) Golden archways break up the portions of the blue ceiling, and that’s just the start.

When you make your way to the upper chamber, you are flooded immediately by the millions of colors that make up the stained-glass windows, which run from the top of the ceiling (about 18m up) all the way down to just about head-level. The windows are practically the only way light gets in the room, so instead of a regular yellow or blue light, the room is filled with an intense chroma that is unlike anything else. The stained glass tells the story of the bible in detail, likely to help oral tradition in a time when literacy was for the privileged.

The Sainte-Chapelle is probably the most colorful place in France, and is without a doubt one of the most unique cathedral experiences out there.

Advertisements

2. The Sacré-Coeur Basilica

I’ve written about the Sacré-Coeur Basilica before, and with good reason. It’s perched on Montmartre, meaning that it rests with one of the best views of Paris there is. The cathedral is extremely young, having only been consecrated about a hundred years ago, meaning that it comes with some some interesting political background.

The cathedral came from the new French Third Republic, which was adopted in 1870, and the location was chosen because of the execution of the Archbishop of Paris on the mountain, who became a sort of martyr for the catholic church. Eventually, his successor reportedly had a vision on the top of the mountain, called it the mountain of the martyr, Montmartre, and said that the Sacré-Coeur should be built there.

It’s basically a big white castle on the hill. I’m not an architect, and architectural styles tend to be lost on me, but the rooftops of the Sacré-Coeur reminds me quite a lot of St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow, without the color of course. Supposedly its distinctive white rooftops, combined with it sitting on top of the hill, was a useful tool for airplane pilots during the world wars.

And as if the beautiful view wasn’t enough, Montmartre is the home to tons of other cultural elements of Paris. The result is musicians and street performers frequenting the steps of the Sacré-Coeur, making the whole experience even more enjoyable. If the cathedral doesn’t exceed expectations, the area will.

(For more on Montmartre, check out my blog post all about it here!)

3. L’Église Saint-Sulpice

Okay, technically this is a church, not a cathedral (the difference, if you’re wondering, is that the leader of it is a priest and not a bishop), but it definitely is worth being on the list. Not only is the church impressive inside and out, but it’s well known outside of its architecture for the role it plays in The Da Vinci Code (both the book and the movie).

The church houses quite a bit of significant art, including some smaller sculptures by the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. However, the main piece of interest in the Saint-Sulpice is the massive ornate organ that hangs over the entire chamber. Supposedly, with the only real exception being the addition of an electric blower in the early 20th century, the organ is maintained today in pretty much the same condition it was when it was made nearly 160 years ago.

The first time I went to the Saint-Sulpice a couple of years ago, it was just a week or so after an arson attempt had caught a significant portion of the building on fire, damaging a door and some stained glass windows. Thankfully the fire had been put out quickly by firefighters, and there hadn’t been any extensive damage to much of the rest of the things inside, but I distinctly remember the smell of the smoke that hung in the air. That was only about a month before the Notre Dame fire, but it has stuck in my memory almost as much.

Advertisements

4. The Dôme des Invalides

While technically this cathedral isn’t really in use anymore, it is no less impressive than when it was. As I’ve talked about before, les Invalides is basically a massive military complex that includes a military museum, as well as some rehabilitation facilities, and a veterans chapel. The main exhibit, though, is the Dôme des Invalides.

The dome is a beauty in itself, and I have the great fortune of walking by it nearly every day I go to class. It’s massive and golden, with a big ol’ golden steeple sticking out the top of it, truly a display of Napoleonic French wealth and show. And that is only fitting, considering that it houses what is considered the final resting place for Napoleon himself.

The tomb of Napoleon sits in the middle of a sunken in hole in the middle of the room, which immediately brings it to your attention. The massive sarcophagus is surrounded on all sides in the lower level by twelve bas-relief portraits of different moments of Napoleon’s reign, and the floor is covered in mosaics that detail the battles he led.

On the far side of the main room is a statue of the crucified Christ. It makes a sort of altar, with some of the most beautiful pillars I’ve ever seen made from black and white marble. On the ceiling above the altar is a really nice painting of what I only assume to be a depiction of ascension to heaven, and behind it is a glass window that looks into the still-active veterans chapel-cathedral.

The dome has been something other than a cathedral for nearly two centuries now, but it’s an amazing place to go see regardless, and it deserves a spot on this list.

5. The Notre-Dame

Okay, even without the recent fire, this one seems kind of obvious, but it’s for good reason! The Notre-Dame is a great place to visit if for no other reason than that it just feels important. It isn’t at all difficult to get lost in the joy of seeing different cathedrals, and going on too many cathedral visits in one trip can easily wash out any importance that a single cathedral can give you. But the Notre-Dame is different.

I’ve only been in the Notre-Dame once and it was only about a month before the fire happened. It was the first cathedral I had ever been into, and the sheer amount of amazing art and history in the place is almost overwhelming.

What’s also clear is that despite its distinctiveness, the Notre-Dame has also essentially served as a template for almost every major cathedral built since then in France. Even if you go out of Paris, local cathedrals tend to very clearly mimic in many ways the makeup of the Notre-Dame, even though they almost all add their own features that make them unique as well.

It’s obviously under construction right now, but that too is a good reason to go see it when it does reopen. We lived through a major historical event, in a building that has been riddled with important history for more than eight centuries. The ability to see something like that happen comes once in a lifetime, at best, and it makes it ten times more compelling to go and see it when everything is repaired in the end.

Advertisements

The cathedrals of France are world-renowned for being some of the best, and they really do prove themselves when you go to see them. They provide insight into not just the moment of history they were built in, but into the things they’ve endured in their long lifespans. It’s nearly impossible to find oneself in a cathedral without thinking about just how much the building itself has seen, which brings a whole new meaning to “if these walls could talk.”

If you get the chance to see a cathedral or two in Paris, make sure you hit one of these, and you won’t be disappointed.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider joining the mailing list for The Road and the Tree. It helps keep me motivated to keep writing, and you’ll get alerts whenever I finish a new piece.

Advertisements

The Complete Guide to Baguettes for Americans

France has all the nice cheeses and wines you could ever want, it has bourguignon and plenty of omelettes to go around, and it overflows from the borders with its culinary excellence in plenty of ways. But none of that culinary expertise, none of the delicious mother sauces nor any of the cheeses and butters would be of any value at all if it weren’t for the single most important piece of French culture: the baguette.

The baguette, in fact, is likely part of what you think of when you consider France in the first place. Trying to pretend to speak French? Say the word “baguette” in a funny voice, and you’ve nailed the impression. As important as the baton of bread is to food culture within France, it might be equally important to the image of France to the rest of the world. I’m not sure any of the French really mind that either.

But baguettes can be complicated. Sure, you can go in to plenty of boulangeries, ask for a baguette, and walk out with one. But it tends to be far more rewarding to actually know what you’re dealing with, so that when you bite into your baguette, you can truly appreciate what went into making it, and why you like it in the first place.

So, to simplify the process of learning the important parts of baguette culture from embarrassing yourself at the boulangerie and at the dinner table, here’s the beginners guide to the baguette.

1. The Basics

A baguette, literally meaning “baton” or “wand” in French, is that long but thin loaf of bread that the French have grown quite fond of. But, in order to avoid confusion with other kinds of breads, there are a number of regulations in place to define what exactly can be called a baguette, and what is just some other loaf of bread.

In size, a baguette must meet these conditions:

  1. about 65cm long
  2. between 4cm and 6cm wide
  3. between 3cm and 5cm tall
  4. about 250g

The other physically defining detail of a baguette is its texture, namely being crispy on the outside but being nice and fluffy on the inside. This texture might vary slightly from one baguette to another, or one boulanger to another, but is relatively consistent even between the best and the worst baguettes.

In ingredients and handling, there is also a number of specifications that a baguette must meet by law. According to the Décret Pain of 1993 (literally “The Bread Decree”), anything advertised as “Pain Traditionnel de France” must be made with wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast starter, and must not be frozen at any point during their making. Additionally, if a bread is advertised as “Pain Maison” must be kneaded, shaped, and cooked at either the place of sale, or sold by the person who made the bread somewhere else. What’s more, according to a 1998 law, any bakery that identifies itself as a “boulangerie” must bake their bread fresh daily, and on-site.

2. Baguette Varieties

Walking into a boulangerie can be an overwhelming experience the first few times, in large part because of the variety of breads and pastries that can exist in it. Though pointing and kindly asking for the bread “celui-là” (right there) works perfectly fine, it can be helpful to know some of the different kinds of breads so that you can ask for exactly what you want.

True Baguettes
  • Baguette Classique – Also called the baguette normale or the baguette ordinaire, this is the classic French baguette that is great for eating with a meal or for a sandwich. This is the kind of baguette subject to the rules above, and you can find this kind at any bakery and most grocery stores as well. These usually cost less than €1.00 at bakeries, and about half that at grocery stores.
  • Baguette Tradition – The baguette tradition is the artisanal version of the baguette that is a little more refined than the classique. These kinds of baguettes honestly taste great on their own, or with just a little bit of butter. It usually is a little darker in color, and richer in flavor, but has the same dimensions and basic ingredients as the baguette normale. Because it’s an artisanal kind of bread, these baguettes usually cost a little more, about €1.20 or so at the bakery.
  • Une Ficelle – Literally meaning “a string,” this one is almost like a long bread stick. It is thinner and smaller than your typical baguette, but is often quite similar in recipe (though not always). This one is not technically a baguette, and it should be noted that it is not “une baguette ficelle” but really just “une ficelle.”
  • Une Flûte – A flûte is the opposite of a ficelle, and is much wider and bigger than a typical baguette, though again, is often made from the same recipe and dough. Like the ficelle, this is not “une baguette flûte” but rather just “une flûte.”
  • Un Viennois – This is what most Americans refer to as “French bread.” It’s a little wider than a baguette, and is soft rather than crispy on the outside, as well as the inside. I have seen versions of this kind of bread with raisins or even chocolate chips in them, though I’m not sure how common that is nationwide. Again, this is not a baguette, but its own separate thing.
Advertisements

3. Ordering a Baguette

As I said previously, going into a bakery can be daunting the first few times. There are dozens of kinds of breads and pastries staring you in the face, and I can never help my eyes from wandering and soaking up all of the great colors and shapes we don’t often see in American stores (or even bakeries for that matter).

After waiting in line, when it comes your turn to make your selection, this is often when the person behind the counter will give a customary bonjour to you. In my experience, they typically hold off saying it to you immediately when you walk in the door (unless of course there is no line) in order to indicate that it’s your turn. First things first; say bonjour back. Anything else comes across as rude.

Give your order with a “je voudrais” (meaning “I would like”), but don’t go too fast if you have more than a couple of things. When ordering your baguette, it is totally common to ask for it “bien cuite” (meaning well cooked and darker on the outside) or “pas trop cuite” (meaning less cooked and a bit paler on the outside). This is just a preference thing, but it certainly isn’t rude at all to ask for something specifically. You can also usually ask for a demi-baguette, which is half of a baguette, and they will cut it in half for you (though if you can’t eat the whole thing by yourself feed the pigeons or something).

Once the boulanger/boulangére has gotten everything you asked for, they will likely ask, “ça sera tout?” or, “will that be all?” There’s no obligation to say yes to this, but no shame in it either.

When paying, always try to have cash (or coins, as euros come in €2 and €1 pieces) on hand. Some boulangeries have a minimum amount required before they will accept a card payment, and you don’t want to be that guy at the bakery.

4. Baguette Rules

Much like everything else in French culture, the baguette has a number of rules and customs that are typically followed surrounding the baguette itself. Here are the big ones:

  1. He who buys the baguette, may taste the baguette The person who made the journey to go get the baguette is often rewarded with the privilege of ripping the end off of it and tasting it. This is particularly rewarding if the baker just took the baguette out of the oven, and it’s still warm.
  2. Do not cut a baguette with a knife – Baguette has a nice crunchy crust which makes it easy to tear apart, and therefore there is absolutely no good reason to use a knife to cut the baguette. There are very few exceptions to this rule, and if in doubt, always tear a piece off.
  3. The baguette goes where it goes – Most of the time, putting food directly on the table is a little weird, but not with baguette. It isn’t at all uncommon for people to place their piece of baguette just above their plate on the table. However, if that isn’t your thing, there’s no rule saying you can’t put it on your plate either. It really is just up to you.
  4. Don’t set a baguette upside down This is considered bad luck in most circles. I’ve seen theories saying that baguette placed with the bottom facing upwards on a countertop used to mean it was reserved for the executioner, and thus is now bad luck. Take it or leave it as a theory, but the practice is bad luck.

5. Eating It

Though many baguettes are delicious of their own right, don’t feel constrained in eating a baguette however you choose to. There isn’t a secret set of customs for how or when to eat a baguette, and with an estimated 30 million baguettes sold daily, I would wager that the bread baton has been eaten in just about every way possible.

Baguette is often included in breakfasts, though is also seldom the main part of it. Many people butter it and add jam or nutella, and some will dip the buttered baguette into their coffee. Though many restaurants don’t serve baguette with lunch and dinner service, many do provide some to you if you order breakfast (particularly if eggs are involved).

For lunches, the best use case is as the bread for a nice sandwich, subway style. The jambon beurre, or literally “ham butter” sandwich, is the quintessential French sandwich, and is perfect street food as well as great for packing to go (more on the jambon beurre here). It also is used as the bun on a French style hot dog, which is literally a hot dog sausage in a baguette and drowned in cheese before being toasted.

For dinner, baguette is used as both a sort of palate cleanser to be used at your discretion, as well as to saucer, or literally for wiping up the sauce, broth, or grease from your plate. My favorite thing to eat baguette with is just about anything with an alfredo sauce, to wipe up the plate, but it truly can be eaten with anything.

And that’s it! Now you’re as knowledgeable as most French people are about baguettes! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when getting your baguette, everyone (including French people) make mistakes all the time. It’s worth it in the end, when you get to taste your delicious French baguette.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the Road and the Tree mailing list to receive updates when new posts are published. It really helps support this blog and it keeps the fire under me to keep writing!

Six Normal Things You Have to Eat in Paris

France is well known as the culinary capital of the world, and with good reason. But too often the discussion of French food gets wrapped up in expensive caviar and pompous fois gras, and absolutely loses touch with the every day reality of most French citizens who are located in the city of love. Here are six normal things you absolutely have to eat when you come to Paris.

A Crêpe Made in Front of You

Paris has hundreds – if not thousands – of crepe stands and little dives where you can pop in to grab a hot crêpe as a midmorning bite, an afternoon snack, or in many cases even to fill a midnight craving. In my experience, the crêpes aren’t usually that different from one stand to the next, but where you choose to eat it, as with all things, makes a difference.

What’s important about getting one in Paris is watching them do it right in front of you. Lots of boulangeries around the city will make crêpes fresh at the beginning of the day and let them sit in a display case for the duration of the day. These crêpes are as good as they can be, but the boulangeries should stick to the croissants. A hot crêpe is the difference between throwing the thing away after a few bites, and being glad facemasks are a thing, because you have Nutella all over your nose.

My personal favorite place to grab a hot crêpe au Nutella is on Montmartre, at a place called La Goutte de Lait (The Taste of Milk). Technically it’s an ice cream shop (and the ice cream is delicious too), but the crêpes are exactly what you want from a fresh and hot crêpe. Plus, they also sell bottles of water for pretty cheap, which is useful when you inevitably need to get that Nutella off of your nose. What’s more, though, is that the place du tertre is a great place to really experience Paris authentically. There’s a million little things that just make it the perfect place to experience what you came to see. (For more on Montmartre and the Place du Tertre, visit my other post covering them!)

Une Baguette Tradition

Baguette France is obviously uncontested as some of the best baguette, and dare I say the best bread, in the world. But French baguette is a whole world in and of itself. There are more than a dozen kinds of baguette that the French like to order at the boulangerie, but in my humble opinion, the baguette tradition (cuit au préférence) is superior.

Most places (not all) will require that you ask for a baguette tradition specifically, as they usually sell the “classique” variety too. A tradition is a form of baguette a little bit more artisanal, and a little richer too. Typically, you won’t find these at grocery stores, but only baked fresh each day at your local boulangerie. They usually cost about €0.20 to €0.40 more than the baguette classique, but it’s worth every centime.

These things are great. They don’t need much, if anything, to be worth eating because they hold a ton of unique flavor and texture in them. I have, no joke, eaten entire baguettes tradition without any condiments, cheese, or filling. They’re that good.

Sandwich Jambon Beurre

The jambon beurre, or literally ham butter, sandwich isn’t delicious because of any sort of complexity or overexuberance. In fact, what it excels at is quite the opposite. All the jambon beurre really is is half a baguette tradition, spread with some authentic French butter, layered with a few pieces of thick cut French ham, and occasionally a few slices of emmental cheese. That’s it.

But this simple sandwich speaks to exactly why France is the culinary capitol of the world in the first place – every single ingredient of the jambon beurre is made by someone who has likely spent their entire life, or a sizable portion of it, learning how to make that ingredient. In many cases, the ingredient is part of a traditional recipe handed down from generation to generation. A baguette tradition is the bread made by artisan bakers; the butter is made by farmers on a family plot owned for a hundred years or more; the ham is cooked for just long enough in a unique process fine tuned by its maker.

The other great beauty of the jambon beurre in Paris is its quality as a great street food. You don’t need a table, a fork, or really even a napkin to eat it. It’s the perfect lunch if you don’t have much time in Paris, so you can grab it and eat it as you’re walking through the tuileries or across one of the many beautiful plazas in Paris.

Something That Looks Too Sweet

If you’re anywhere in Paris, and especially if you find yourself in the center of it, you will certainly pass a patisserie displaying dozens of handheld sweet treats in the window. They’re always gorgeous and they look almost like works of art rather than pastries. But, most Americans (myself included) take a look at them, admire them, and then start to think about just how overly sweet they probably are. I have no clue why we always think this; maybe it’s because we don’t see elaborate pastries like this in the US, or maybe it’s because we just have too much sugar to begin with. Whatever the root cause, if that thought runs through your head, it’s probably wrong.

I urge you to choose something that looks so entirely sickeningly sweet, and buy and taste it. Usually you can get something like that for less than five euros, but it can totally change the way you see sweets forever. They are sweet, don’t get me wrong, but it almost always comes in a seemingly natural form. If you get a tarte aux fraises, the sweetness seldom comes from the glaze over the top, but from the strawberries themselves. If you get a gateau St. Honoré, the sweetness is even more mild, and comes from the creamy custard piped on it. It’s almost never too much sweetness, and it gives you the chance to taste all the other flavors that the pastry chef likely worked so hard to put into the pastry.

Trust me, trying something that looks way too sweet will give you a whole new respect for what were once just pretty pastries.

Several Croissants au Beurre

Once upon a time, I was going to write an article about the best croissants in France. I went to a dozen different boulangerie-patisseries, tried their croissant au beurre, ranked it within my own criteria, and went to the next one. Pretty quickly though, I realized that it was a stupid venture to begin with. There is so much variety between croissants in France, but there isn’t really a better or worse version of it.

Some croissants have a relatively tender outside, and are airy all the way through. Others have a crispy exterior, with a fluffy middle. My personal favorite kind are the places that skip the egg wash before baking, and the crispy exterior instead becomes crunchy. There’s so much variety from one patissier to the next in such a great way.

What you achieve by trying several different croissants is the ability to notice the differences between them. Don’t just accept one as better than anything you’ve had before – if you’ve never lived in France, they’re all better than anything you’ve had before! Find the best one you can to fit your own specific tastes.

Something a Little Too Pricy

One of the biggest urges that people who come to France have is to want to blend in, to have an authentic experience almost as if you were a local. Well, if you want an authentic Parisian experience, it can be encapsulated by nothing better than purchasing something for a little too much that turns out to be underwhelming.

This can take plenty of forms. It can be a dish at a restaurant that is a little pricier than everything else. It can be a type of bread at the bakery that just doesn’t seem like it’s worth the price. For me, the answer is macarons. Sure, they’re tasty, and I can enjoy a good macaron as well as anyone. They’re just so expensive it almost isn’t ever worth it.

I realize typically buying things that are too expensive is bad. But I’m serious with this one; get something that seems too pricy, taste it, and have a little moment of regret over the five or ten euros you could have saved by getting the cheaper option that tasted just as good.

The reason I say to do this is because it’s so incredibly easy to idealize Paris. When you have the Eiffel Tower in the distance and the smell of fresh bread in the air, it can be really easy to forget that Paris is just a city. Getting something that costs too much brings you back to earth and helps you realize that this isn’t an oasis, and it isn’t a utopia. Paris is just a city with a bunch of people, and a few of them make some good food too.

If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the Road and the Tree mailing list to receive updates when new posts are out.

Montmartre – The Sacré Coeur and Place du Tertre

Within the regular bounds of Paris, there are few places from which a high-rise look is available. The Eiffel Tower is a classic high rise spot to view the city, as is the Montparnasse Tower, but there is one spot that is undeniably a bit more refined, a bit more authentic; that place is Montmartre. The hill is the closest thing there is to a mountain in Paris, so it’s not surprising that it holds one of the best views of the city, but what might be a little more surprising is just how lovely the mountain of the martyr actually is.

The Sacré Coeur

The most famous thing that Montmartre is known for is for the Sacré Coeur Basilica (Sacred Heart in English), a massive cathedral built on the hill in the late 19th century. The cathedral is relatively young, considering the Notre Dame de Paris was built in the 12th century, but it clearly shows in its architecture. The Sacré Coeur is a multi-tiered masterpiece with six domed peaks sticking up out of it. On either side of the three-arched entrance is an equestrian statue, one of Joan of Arc, and the other of King Saint Louis IX.

The Sacré Coeur Basilica (Photo: Ben Patterson)

The Sacré Coeur is a completely unforgettable sight to behold. The cathedral is magnificent both inside and out, and the building itself strikes me as particularly unique. The white brick that is so apparent from the outside is almost shocking to come across, and the gold that floats around the interior decorations is not only gorgeous, but tasteful instead of purely luxurious. The cathedral sticks up over almost everything else in the area, and its presence is known by everyone there in a sort of pleasing and reassuring way.

There is assuredly another aspect of being at this cathedral that makes it so unforgettable, and that’s the view. The entirety of Montmartre is known for the view, but the Sacré Coeur is located in the prime spot to be able to take advantage of it. In front of the cathedral lies two plazas; one directly in front, a wide staircase that goes down a couple of flights, and the second one below. These plazas make excellent stages for street performers of all kinds, be they dancers, singers, or small bands. It also serves as a sort of marketplace for street vendors, who sell little light up statues and keychains to tourists.

The view from directly in front of the Sacré Coeur (Photo: Ben Patterson)

This spot, in my opinion, serves as a summary for what Paris is about today. The cathedral emerging overtop everything reminds you the roots from which western culture was born, and that the influence of the church will never truly fade. The plaza in front, however, shows you more of what day to day life is all about in Paris. There is a bit of fun going on, maybe some music or a nice show, but there is also the humble recognition that Paris is a place that attracts lots of tourists, and that in one way or another Paris must profit (thus, the street vendors). The view of the city reminds you that you are taking part in something huge, but then you look at the crowd around you, and feel like you can also be part of a single small moment. It is a profound feeling to just stand and enjoy the view, and is completely unparalleled by anything I’ve ever experienced elsewhere.

Place du Tertre

If you go around the cathedral and take the very natural and attractive roads back to it, you will come across the Place du Tertre. Meaning Plaza of the Hill in English, this little plaza makes you understand the reason people stay in Paris. The plaza is home to bunches of little stands selling crêpes and waffles, gift shops selling berets and scarves, and restaurants that let you sit in the garden and enjoy a nice croque monsieur.

Place du Tertre (Photo: Ben Patterson)

Of course, the plaza would not be what it is if it were merely a collection of gift shops and crêpe stands; what would Paris itself be if not for that? The plaza and the surrounding streets are also home to artists galore. Some want to paint your portrait, some want to paint the scenery, but all of them are there because they are pursuing a legitimate path in art. Some of the greatest painters of all time lived in or around the plaza, with names like Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Renoir being among the tenants of the past.

Street leading to the Place du Tertre (Photo: Ben Patterson)

The plaza is, in a word, lovely. It’s difficult to describe one thing that makes it better than any other plaza in Paris, but that’s just the problem, because there isn’t one thing that makes it better. The smell of fresh croissants wafts just a little bit stronger through the streets, the lights glow just a little bit warmer under the canopies, and the people seem just a little bit happier to be existing at all when being there. There isn’t one massive thing that makes the Place du Tertre such a lovely location; there are a million little things that just remind you of all the good things in the world.


Montmartre is truly one of the best places to visit if you’re in Paris, and even if you have a limited amount of time for it, find the time to go to these two places. You can make it through them both in a couple of hours, but you will come out decades happier. Keep in mind that it is certainly a tourist area, so keep an eye out for pickpockets and you might have to shoo away some very determined painters who have decided you to be the subject of their next painting (of course, assuming you’ll buy it), but it is completely worth it to enjoy yourself with a nice café and a warm crêpe, and just imagine for a moment that there is nothing wrong with the world.

(NOTE: Photos taken by Ben Patterson were taken on the same day at the same time as I was there. Sometimes it pays to have a friend who takes more pictures than you do, and I learned that lesson on this visit to Montmartre.)

If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more like it, please consider subscribing to The Road And The Tree, or sharing this post to social media or with friends who might be interested. It really helps support the blog, and would be greatly appreciated.

The Best Show of Nature in Oklahoma – The Wichita Mountains

Of the vast landscapes of Oklahoma, the place that is undoubtedly the most fascinating and beautiful work of nature is the Wichita Mountains. The mountains are in the Wichita Wildlife Refuge, a 59,000 acre refuge of protected land positioned in the southwest of the state. The refuge is home to all sorts of animals that are largely protected, including bison, prairie dogs, wild turkeys, elk, deer, and Texas longhorn cattle, and is home to fields of massive boulders and small mountains that are used for all kinds of rock climbing and bouldering for people all around the country.

When considering the things I wanted to do before leaving on my journey to France, I specifically decided the Wichitas were something that I particularly wanted to see. It’s odd, because while it’s not much of a drive to get to the refuge from Oklahoma City (about two hours from where we live), it’s just far enough to not be a spontaneous adventure, so I’ve only been four or five times that I can remember. Fortunately, I got to go one last time before leaving on my expedition, and here’s what we saw.

Mount Scott

The mountains of the refuge are relatively small compared to most, but about 300 million years ago they soared to heights comparable to Everest. Mount Scott is no different, with its elevation reaching only 2,464 ft, though it’s worth noting that most of the area sits in relatively deep valleys.

Of course, size is not all that matters, and with both a scenic paved path up, as well as multiple places through which rock climbing is available, the mountain remains a spot worth seeing. From the top of the mountain, one can see the amazing views of the Oklahoma plains that are so well known. Looking west from the mountain, you can see Elk Mountain, Mount Sheridan, and Haley peak, other great sites in the refuge.

Charon’s Garden

The area best for bouldering (not rock climbing, but hopping from massive boulder to massive boulder) is in a huge valley in the reserve called Charons Garden. My best guess as to this name is that it’s a reference to Charon, the ferryman of the river Styx in hell, but this garden is significantly less terrifying than hell, so you should have nothing to fear. The valley is flooded with massive boulders, some the size of cars, others the size of three story buildings. On either side of you are boulders going all the way up the hills and mountains, some of them even perched on the peaks. It almost gives the impression that the mountains aren’t even real mountains, but stacks of boulders thrown together by giants.

To get to Charon’s Garden, there is a small hike one must first take though. From the trail head for the Garden (which also acts as the trail head for Elk Mountain), it’s about a mile hike through a somewhat narrow cutout in the forest. It’s nothing to be scared away by for sure, but it certainly makes you work a little bit to actually get to the beautiful scenery you can find at the garden. The nice thing about this hike is that it gives you a great chance to see some of the smaller animals the refuge has to offer, such as the lizards, birds, and insects. Unfortunately all of these animals scurried off before I could get any good pictures of them, but be assured that you will see specific animals that you likely have never seen before, especially if you don’t spend much time in large natural parks like this.

Bison in Oklahoma

When one thinks of Oklahoma, or more specifically of Indian Territory (which is what much of Oklahoma was originally), the bison is certainly an animal that comes to mind, but the story of the buffalo in Oklahoma is an interesting one.

Buffalo used to roam the southwest by the tens of millions, and it’s possible that the first documented encounter by a white man even happened in Oklahoma in 1542. In the 19th century, however, the buffalo fur trade became a massive global industry, so bison hunting was massively popular and successful. This hunting led to a decline from millions of buffalo to only about 550 animals by 1900. Fortunately, some early conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt became concerned about the issue, and 15 bison from the New York Zoo were shipped to the Wichita Wildlife Reserve, where they were released and let repopulate.

After decades of rehabilitation of the species from the Wichita Wildlife Reserve and other reserves in the US, the bison population in North America has grown to a few hundred thousand, which brought the species off of the brink of extinction. That being said, the current buffalo population is merely a remnant of its former self, and the impact of people on their rapid decline in number should be remembered, if for nothing else, to preserve the world we live on.

Additional things to know

In case you’ve never been to Oklahoma, it gets damn hot during the summer. Although it’s somewhat cooler in recent years, it’s far from unheard of to have consecutive weeks or even months with every day being 90’s and above. That is all to say that, if given the choice, you should avoid the summer to visit the refuge. If your only option is in the summer, there is still lots of fun to be had, but prepare to be in the sun and sweating, because you will be.

Scattered around the reserve are several picnic tables and shaded areas perfect for hanging out. Do yourself a favor and bring things for sandwiches, and have a picnic on the refuge. It’s not that it’s necessarily some sort of amazing time, but there’s something important to be said about having a picnic with friends or family in the park. If that isn’t a good enough reason, a restaurant called “Chad’s” claiming to have “Authentic Mexican Cuisine” should be a slightly better one. There aren’t many restaurants around the refuge, and if you plan on spending more than 30 minutes in the park, it’s worth sitting down for a meal there.

It should be obvious that anyone planning on going bouldering or rock climbing should do so with immense caution. Keep in mind that the refuge largely does not have cell service, and that many of the bouldering/climbing courses are a distance from any sort of road (even dirt ones). In the event you get hurt, it would certainly take emergency crews a long time to get to you. You don’t have to wrap yourself in bubble wrap, but seriously, be careful.

Lastly, just don’t mess with the buffalo. They’re two ton tanks of animals, and while they aren’t aggressive by nature, they will mess you up if you want to choose a fight. They frequently cross the road all across the park because they feel extremely comfortable around people. Let them cross, and go on your way. Otherwise, you might as well kiss your car goodbye, because it doesn’t stand a chance against one of these things, much less a small herd of them.

My thoughts

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is the best display of Oklahoman nature in the state. The refuge does fantastic work protecting the animals that live on it, and the reward for visiting it is getting to experience all of the scenery and wildlife that is largely untouched by man. The mountains, despite their size, make for an extremely fun jungle gym for anyone mobile enough to take them on, and provide a beautiful scenery compared to the yellow plains of the rest of the state. It is completely worth visiting if given the opportunity, and I highly recommend it.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more like it, please consider subscribing to The Road And The Tree, or sharing this post to social media or with friends who might be interested. It really helps support the blog, and would be greatly appreciated.

How Not to Look Like a Tourist in Paris

Most of us want to experience what it means to experience the local culture authentically, rather than to fall into the abundant tourist traps that are so common in places like Paris. Additionally, Paris is known for things like pickpockets and scam artists, so acting like a local can help defend you from these threats by never even initiating with them. Fortunately for most people, it’s possible to pass as a local, instead of being pandered to as a foreigner with money to spare on their vacation. Here is how not to look like a tourist when visiting Paris.

Clothing Choice

When considering your clothing choice, it’s easy to fall into the trap of dressing with branded clothes or t-shirts with words all over them. When in Paris, you should consider finding clothing that isn’t overtly branded, or at least choose brands with a global presence. Try wearing clothes that don’t have visible words on them, as nothing says “American” quite like a Bass Pro Shop t-shirt. If you choose to wear a sweatshirt, wear one that fits well. Baggy clothes look very American.

For pants, make sure you have well-fitting pants that are meant for general use. Jeans and chinos are great choices for this kind of thing, but you want to avoid wearing things like sweatpants or joggers. French people in general wear clothing to match their setting, and clothes like that are seen as meant for the gym alone.

When it comes to shoes, choose something in a subtle color like black or grey. You’ll obviously need tennis-shoes for how much one walks in Paris, but you won’t be needing brightly colored running shoes that you can see from a mile away. Try again to stick with brands that are subtle, but if you need that extra style point, go with Adidas as they are very popular in Europe in general.

Try to stay away from hats in general. Baseball caps, with some exceptions, are seen as an American staple, and berets (while certainly the cliché) are certainly not something worn by the majority of French people at all. Make sure you have an umbrella, to keep the rain away when necessary instead of a hat.

As a tourist, you’re going to still be needing something like a backpack. Make sure your backpack is low key and dull, instead of being flashy and colorful. However, do ensure that you can always identify your backpack as yours, in the event it is stolen or left behind and you need to identify it. My personal backpack has a small red and blue ribbon on the handle. Fanny packs are a definite no go if you want to not look like a tourist.

Walking and Talking

When walking down the street, try to stay out of other people’s way. Typically, one walks on the right side of the sidewalk (as cars drive on the right of the road), but the important part is paying attention and not bumping into people, especially when you might be admiring the scenery. If you need to consult a map, try to get off the sidewalk, and do it in as much privacy as possible, as you will attract less attention.

Parisians are relatively private people, and this leads to the fact that for the most part, they tend to keep their voices down. I am certainly guilty of having a louder than necessary voice in settings that don’t require it, and especially when not speaking French, it’s important to keep your voice down and to yourself. You aren’t hiding, you’re just being private and sticking to yourself.

When greeting anyone, use a simple “Bonjour.” This goes certainly when you approach someone to talk to them, but also as a nice greeting when you walk into shops, cafés, or even elevators. It’s typical of locals to use this greeting when entering a building and such, and even if your accent exposes you as a tourist, you are likely to get much better service than you would if you came across as impolite for not doing it.

Learn a few phrases in French, and try to communicate in French first with any locals you might meet (read 7 Phrases You Need to Learn In The Local Language When Traveling). Even if you have to switch to English to get any real conversation done, giving this initial attempt puts yourself in the favor of others, and makes your outcome from the conversation much more beneficial.

La Bise

As one of the most talked about subjects of French culture, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the basics of the bise, or kiss on the cheek, that many French people use as a greeting. In Paris, the usual custom is to do one kiss on each cheek, however this amount can change based on the region of France, as well as with different friend groups. Let the locals lead the way on this, and you can follow what they do.

Who you should be doing la bise with is a whole other subject on its own. Generally speaking, la bise only occurs between women, or between a man and a woman. It is not common for men to do la bise unless very close friends, family, or partners. Additionally, la bise is specifically meant for friends, and a handshake should be used in business meetings or official appointments. Again, let the locals lead here.

With COVID-19, la bise is currently not currently recommended as general practice. Until the pandemic is over, stick with a handshake or an elbow bump, and remember to use hand sanitizer always.

Just Act Natural

The key to not acting like a tourist is to act intimately familiar with wherever you are, but don’t do this at the cost of your entire experience. In the age of the cell phone camera, don’t be afraid to take photos of the beautiful scenery of Paris – even the locals do it! The point of acting like a local is to experience Paris as a local does, but it’s also to deter scam artists and pickpockets, as they know the locals are much harder targets than tourists. As long as you are being safe and cautious, having a good experience in Paris is more important than not getting recognized as a tourist.


If you found this post helpful, please consider subscribing to The Road And The Tree. It’s free, easy, and helps support the blog. Plus, you will get email notifications every time a new post comes out!

5 Reasons Why Americans Need to Travel Abroad In Their Life

The US is a massive and wonderful country full of vastly different landscapes and cultures. With this, it’s easy to travel a few states away and feel like you’ve immersed yourself in something completely different, an entirely separate culture from your own. I’ve even heard Americans say genuinely, “Everything you could want exists here in the states. Why would I leave?” The truth is, despite the absolute beauty that exists from coast to coast in this country, there are lessons worth learning from traveling internationally, especially as an American. Here are 5 reasons why every American needs to travel out of the United States at least once in their lifetime.

1. Because the world isn’t as scary as it seems

In a post 9-11 America, it’s a common sentiment that the rest of the world is this sort of crime-filled and scary place with terrorists, cartels, and mafias out to get you the moment you make a wrong move. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of the world is just full of people like you or me, with similar morals, similar principles, and similar motivations. Sure, being careful when traveling is important, but if you take the right precautions, the small threat of being pick-pocketed is nothing compared to the vast growth opportunity that you have in a new and exciting culture.

2. Many of the things we consider rights, others consider privileges

Going to another country, specifically one that is less privileged than the US, shows us what we don’t have to fight for. It is important to see the things people are fighting for in other countries, be they women’s rights, racial equality, or even one’s own personal and familial safety, because it puts into perspective our own privilege that we have as Americans. It splays out the truth that Americans do not each individually have to make a stand for their own right to be seen, to be heard, and that those rights have been fought for and won already.

Let me be clear: our job as Americans is not to “fix” every country who we deem to be behind the curve on civil rights. If you want to help local advocates, the best way you can do this is listen, learn, and spread the news. It is not to swoop in, try to provide the antidote, and leave before you can see if it ever even worked. I’m reminded of a story I heard once of a church group that went on a mission trip to Africa. They brought T-shirts to give to everyone who did not have much clothing, but they did not realize they were damaging the local clothing industry, which relied on making clothing for the locals as a means of living. To best help, you must first open your ears, not your wallet.

3. It’s healthy to be uncomfortable

When traveling throughout the US, it’s clear that most things aren’t actually different. A Coca-Cola bottle in California will look exactly the same as a Coca-Cola bottle in Virginia. However, that Coke bottle is going to look drastically different in somewhere like Chile, which will look different from the bottle in Singapore. It’s things like this that make us slightly uncomfortable, like maybe we aren’t as settled in this place as we normally would be at home. Of course, in a foreign country, there are hundreds or even thousands of these small details that add up, showing us that everyone experiences the world a little bit differently than we do. This discomfort leads to us growing in massive ways, growing our comfort zone, and pushing our own limits to the edge.

4. We should spend time somewhere we don’t speak the native language

The trouble with traveling from state to state in the US is that everyone, with very very few exceptions, speaks English. The thing is, you don’t have to be a language learner to reap the benefits of being somewhere that English is not the native language. When in a country like this, one often finds themselves somewhat lost and confused. This feeling is a really good one, because it shows us that we have to rely on others to be able to make it through everything okay. Without a guide, a translator, or a local who you’re communicating with via hand gestures, you can seriously be lost and alone. It’s important to problem solve and learn how to communicate effectively without just using your words, because this skill translates to anything you do. Communication is a cornerstone of the collective humanity, and we should all strive to reinforce that foundation.

5. We must stop being complicit in cultural ignorance

It’s difficult to describe what it really means to have your understanding of everything turned upside down, so please, perform this thought experiment with me. Imagine, like you probably have experienced your entire life, that smiling was an indication of joy and happiness. Smiling is what happens when people laugh, it’s what happens when they’re pleased, when they’re experiencing something beautiful or glorious. Smiling is an external expression of generally good internal feelings. Now, imagine going somewhere that a smile was a symbol of sadness. People smile at funerals, they smile as they cry, they smile when bad things happen. At first this feels bizarre, having to watch people smile when in pain, and also keep yourself from smiling like you’ve trained yourself to do when happy. When you begin to think about the smile, it never actually meant happiness, that’s just what you associated it with. It was never bad that a smile meant happiness, and it was never bad that it meant sadness, they’re just different and that’s okay.

Obviously this thought experiment is a highly exaggerated and unrealistic version of what it’s like to not understand the culture you’re in, but the truth in it lies in the idea that the different is not the same as the bad. Just because a culture is different than yours doesn’t mean it’s inherently weird or bad, and the more we judge different cultures for the nature of their differences from ours, the closer we inch to xenophobia. Unfortunately, this thinking happens all too often in America, but we have the ability to combat it. When we travel internationally, we begin to recognize that different is not bad, and in many cases it can actually be better than what we have. But, if we choose to stay isolated in our home country, never venturing beyond the safety net of the border, the xenophobia festers and builds, and it turns into something very nasty. The more we can expand our cultural palette, the more we can recognize new and radical ideas as beneficial to the process of making a better world, rather than bad on the basis of being different.


If you enjoyed this article, please consider subscribing to The Road And The Tree to receive updates when new posts are released. It helps support the blog and it just takes a click.

8 Things You Should Know Before Going On An International Exchange

Taking an international exchange trip is by far one of the most rewarding things you can ever do. The cultural immersion, the great food, and the people you meet, are memories that will last a lifetime and change you forever. That being said, there’s certainly something extremely scary about being put so far outside of your comfort zone. Here are 8 things you need to know before going on an international exchange.

1. Your Host Family Wants You There

I feel like for many people like me, there is a certain desire when being a guest to leave as little of a footprint as you possibly can. In most cases, this philosophy isn’t even a bad thing, but it’s important to keep in mind that your host family signed up to have you there. They’re excited about meeting you, and they want to make your experience enjoyable. They have opened their home up to you, so use it. This doesn’t mean raid the fridge or leave a mess wherever you go, but it does mean that you are allowed to take advantage of things in the same way other family members do. Certainly, every family has different rules and etiquette, so pay close attention to how the other members of your host family behave, and try to imitate that.

Talk to them, engage with them, join them for activities as often as you can. They are excited about your presence almost as much as you are to be there. Ask for the things you need, and just engage with the family in a way that makes it worth their time to take care of you.

2. Ask For Help

When you’re entering an entirely new culture, with new people, new expectations, and new realities, it’s completely understandable that you might be confused on certain things. Whether it’s learning the local language, figuring out the transportation system, or trying to connect your computer, people are almost always willing to help if you ask kindly.

In addition, if you are experiencing any issues, whether it’s homesickness, medical/health issues, or anything else, speak up about it. It could be a little bit embarrassing to tell your host parents that you aren’t feeling well, but it would be significantly more embarrassing to tell them that you’re too unwell to do anything, which could have been avoided if you had done something earlier. Again, they want to help you have a good experience, so make sure you’re communicating if something isn’t right.

3. Culture Shock Is A Completely Real (And Valid) Thing

It doesn’t matter if you are going on a two week exchange or a two year one, you will experience some level of culture shock. Even if you’re somewhere with a culture similar to your own, culture shock is a very normal thing that occurs in almost everyone. Your goal is not to destroy the culture shock, but rather to understand it, and to recognize how you need to deal with it. Also keep in mind that if you are traveling with others, you likely won’t experience culture shock at the same time they do. Everyone is different, and will experience it differently.

Chart by Emily Goldberg, the Daily Trojan

Use this chart, and if you begin to experience the things that come along with culture shock, try to identify where you are on the roller-coaster. Recognize you aren’t alone, and it will get better.

4. Don’t Have Specific Expectations

Specific expectations, especially high ones, tend to make you lose track of the really cool things you get to do that are outside of that box. If you expect too much, and what you experience doesn’t meet those expectations, it’s disappointing. However, if you go into your study abroad with an open mind and an adventurous attitude, anything you do can suddenly be a lot more fun.

Some things you experience might not meet what you had in mind for it. The Eiffel Tower might not be as big as you thought, or the Seine might be underwhelming, but if you focus on these things, you forget about all the little amazing details that are worth being there for anyways. You don’t make memories ahead of time, you make them while you’re there.

5. Don’t Try To Make Memories, Just Let Them happen

Think about the stories you tell to your friends. How many of them are events that you completely manufactured from start to finish? Probably not that many. That’s because the best memories we have are ones we didn’t expect to have. Sure, you can (and should) make plans to do things that you want to do, but also know that the things worth writing home about will likely be spontaneous. If you try to turn every moment into a memory, you will only remember all the things that went wrong. But, if you pay attention to the people around you and engage in the moment, and you will be rewarded by the experiences you have.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Phone Home

Everyone, including myself, is guilty of the mindset that when you’re away from your family, sometimes it’s because you need a break. While that can certainly be the case, it doesn’t hurt to give your family a call every night or two. They are probably interested in everything you’re doing abroad, and keeping in touch with them means that you aren’t in the dark on the things that changed while you were gone. Your family is where you likely find yourself the most comfortable. Keeping up with them can help deal with culture shock, as well as comfort you if you are having any issues.

7. You Will Make Mistakes

You will mess up. Period. Whether it’s learning the language, accidentally offending someone, or messing up a local custom, you will not get everything right. The good news is that you’re not alone. People will always mess up and make mistakes. These mistakes are critical for growth. It isn’t your job to get it right every time, it’s your job to make it right if you mess up. If you offend someone, apologize. If you mess up a word, ask for help on how to say it. Sometimes it’s embarrassing to make mistakes, but when you recognize that it’s just the nature of the beast, it becomes less embarrassing, and more enriching.

8. You Will Grow From This Experience

Growth comes from us being outside of our comfort zone, and the choice you have is to be shoved out of it, or to step out of it yourself. When you choose to do a foreign exchange, you are stepping completely out of your comfort zone, and putting yourself in situations you don’t yet have a grasp on. This discomfort is a good thing; it means you’re growing and learning. The more discomfort you put yourself in now, the less you will experience the next time you have to deal with a similar situation. Exchange programs are learning experiences in every aspect, and you will come back home a different and improved version of the person who left.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more like it, please consider subscribing to The Road And The Tree, or sharing this post to social media or with friends who might be interested. It really helps support the blog, and would be greatly appreciated.

Why I, An American, Am Choosing To Attend University Abroad

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

For many people, attending university abroad is a daunting task to say the least. To bury yourself in a whole different culture for a massive span of time, well it’s just not something people consider. I happen to be the exception to this rule, so here is why I, an American, am deciding to take a leap of faith and attend university in Paris.

I come from Oklahoma, and with its many ups and downs that it may have, something worth noting about it is that the vast majority of the people who live here have always lived here. I don’t mean individuals that never moved away, I mean families whose entire lineage, as far as anyone can remember, comes from Oklahoma. My family is one of those families.

When I first began to show interest in learning French, I had a lot of people, both in my family and out of it, asking very candidly why I would be doing that. There was never an intention to be rude, but they genuinely wanted to know what function French might have in life. In Oklahoma, the only other language that is even occasionally spoken is Spanish, and practically every Spanish speaker also speaks some level of English. Even further, if you’re going to travel somewhere from Oklahoma, the odds are much greater that you’ll be going somewhere that speaks Spanish than French. Truly, in Oklahoma, there isn’t much practicality in learning a language like French, but still I learned it.

The thing I noticed as I began to learn French was that the world was so much bigger than I realized it to be. Sure, I’d taken geography like everyone else, but I had never really grasped the concept that people on the other side of the earth would be leading different, but no less interesting, lives of their own. The more I learned about the culture surrounding the French language, things like the value of art and of treating food with care, the more I fell deeply in love with not just French or European culture, but rather this idea that the world is perceived differently by every individual on it. No culture has it right or wrong, but each different society is equally intricate and equally beautiful.

So as I learned about France, about its rich history of art and literature, of science and architecture, and even eventually got to spend some time there. As I did, I felt more and more like an archaeologist realizing that they’ve uncovered an ancient version of a being that exists to this day. I realized that the culture I had grown up in was adapted from the European culture that I could see across the ocean. I could recognize the pieces and trace their history, like recognizing a bone that exists in two species that look completely different. I could see that American religion, and even the specific southern forms of this that we see so commonly, were not that different from the European versions of Catholicism and Christianity, but that they had adapted to fit the landscape and the needs the people faced in the US. I could even look at American grocery stores and draw comparisons to their French counterparts, but also seeing that they are different for very practical reasons. My view on the entire society I lived in shifted, and I realized that just about 5,000 miles away from me was not some sort of archaic ancestor of the culture mine had come from, but rather a culture that shared a common ancestor, who had adapted to resolve its own set of trials. So just as if you found out you’d had a long lost sibling you’d never heard of, I immediately began to figure out how I was going to get over there, to meet this sister culture, to experience the things that it had that my own did not.

Now certainly Europe is not one contiguous culture or society. They don’t share the same delicacies, the same burdens, or even the same interests. That being said, something resonated to me within France. To me, there is a sort of intercultural exposure that France has seen especially in the last century and a half. Looking at great American and British authors, at the great painters of the world, at the architecture of my own country’s capital, it was clear to me that France, and more specifically Paris, had something within it that was important to the human experience, so important that it inspired greatness (or at least added to it). I don’t yet know what that is, but I plan on figuring it out.

The other piece of the puzzle I had to figure out was how to not just visit France, but live there. There is a difference between being a tourist and being a resident. Being a tourist is great sometimes, and broadening our global perspective through travel is important, but I want to know what it’s like to live somewhere. Being a resident of somewhere is the only way to submerge yourself in a truly different worldview, and if only for a moment, adopt it and see what it’s like.

I looked at loads of different options as to how I would make my voyage, which were received by my parents with understandably variable amounts of enthusiasm and support. I looked into going to a local university and spending my second year abroad, but I truly wasn’t sure I could wait a whole year. I looked into spending a semester with a host family through an exchange program, but that didn’t promise any real level of the flexibility that I desired. I even looked into taking a gap year and straight up moving to France with absolutely no safety net, but that was shot down for what I now recognize as obvious reasons.

Eventually I found the American University of Paris, which immediately caught my full attention and admiration. I had looked at a few French universities, but I also promised myself to never take classes in French until I could consider myself fluent, because the last thing I would want is to fail a course because I couldn’t understand what the instructor was saying. The beauty of AUP is that all of the classes (with the obvious exception being French) are in English, meaning no language barrier to deal with. Not to mention that AUP offers a supremely diverse student body, possibly one of the most diverse in the world. Out of its roughly 1,100 students, 108 nationalities are represented. AUP wasn’t just going to offer me the opportunity to get educated in my favorite city in the world, but it was going to give me the chance to do it with a highly diverse student body that represented cultures from all over the world. I’m definitely not trying to sell anyone on the idea of going to AUP. Choosing a university is a complicated enough process, and my voice trying to convince people wouldn’t make anything better. I’m simply saying that AUP offers me an extremely enticing opportunity that I’m not willing to waste.

That doesn’t mean that it was some sort of easy decision to go to Paris for university. In fact, I’ve been quizzed and drilled about my choice by almost every adult in my life about it. Usually when I mention that I’m going to France for college, I first hear a reaction of congratulations, followed immediately by a host of technical questions relating to whether or not the education will be equivalent (it is), whether or not it will be vastly more expensive than college in the US (it is not), etc. As clear as it was that no one was as confident in my decision as I was, there was certainly a sort of reinforcement to my reasoning.

See, global citizenship is the thing I’m striving for in going to France. The purpose to me is to open my mind up to different cultures, to different ways of thinking and different ideologies. The big looming question, however, was whether or not that is a practical skill set. Sure, it’s fun to go around Europe as a teenager, but what does it really offer for a job, for a career?

The truth is that the world is global now. We don’t just live in our villages or our towns anymore, but rather through a vast platform of international citizens. Almost every major business deals with international commerce and trade, and that’s where I fit in. This world needs people who understand how to delicately navigate the global stage without overwhelming it with too much of one culture. And so with every adult bombarding me with questions, it made me that much more confident that the world needs a global perspective more than it ever has before.

Ultimately, I know that my decision to go abroad for college is risky. I know that it’s not normal, and I know that I’m jumping a bit into the deep end on this one. However, I also know that the decision to expand my worldview to encompass more of the world is one that affects everyone around me, and it’s the best way I can leave my mark on the world.

If you enjoyed this read and would like to see more content like this, consider subscribing to this blog. I post as frequently as possible, and all support is welcome and greatly appreciated.