Looking down a street corner in Paris

French, Food, and Flânerie

Ava Goldwyn CC'21

It is clear to me that this program has changed the course of my personal and professional life, not to mention fulfilling the tall order of being the best summer I have ever had.

There are many things that set this summer study abroad program apart from others, but for brevity’s sake, I will elaborate on those that effected my experience the most— French, food, and flânerie.

Though I was one of the more than 30 million tourists who visited Paris in 2018, I can confidently say that my experience was entirely unique from traditional tourism. My interactions with the city, the French, and French were shaped and enriched by the things I was learning at Reid Hall. My ambition for this summer was to improve my French— which I definitely did. One of my favorite things about this program is how well it accommodates the diverse interests of its students, especially when it comes to speaking French. For me, this meant that I could take both of my classes in French. Even during the program-wide trips to Bretagne and Normandie in northern France, we had the option to take tours of the wineries, cathedrals, and WWI sites in French or English. What I didn’t expect from this program was the extent to which it would engage with Paris as an epicenter for French culture, both past and present. For instance, in my history class, we went to see the breakout play of the summer at a small theater in Montmartre, while in my French literature class, we climbed to the top of Notre Dame to see the view Victor Hugo was describing centuries before in his text “Paris à vol d’oiseau.” My classes not only guided my exploration of the city, but also gave me the tools to enjoy the places I found even more; there is something, dare I say, magical about reading Balzac’s Le père Goriot in the Jardin du Luxembourg while his characters are strolling through the very same park in the book.

When I was not in class, my friends and I spent our time doing quintessential Parisian things, which inevitably involved food. By the end of two months, we had a regular routine: we bought croissants during the break in class every day from the local patisserie, ate bread and cheese by the Seine on Friday nights, shopped at the outdoor markets on Sundays, shared our evening apéros with locals as different cafés throughout the city, and picnicked in various parks while finishing up homework after school. These may seem like insignificant memories, but, in reality, these simple pleasures brought us closer to the city and helped us sample the distinct flavors and tempo of French culture. Of all the souvenirs that I stuffed into my luggage, some of the most meaningful takeaways from this experience have been the cultural ‘quirks’ that I picked up, like taking more time over meals to be with friends and really appreciate what I’m eating, even in the hustle and bustle of life at Columbia.

Another cultural quirk I discovered over the summer was a new found appreciation for people-watching, which helped me explore the city in a whole new way. There is something about Paris that brings out the flâneur in all of us; after all, the term flâneur was used to describe men like Charles Baudelaire who wandered Paris in the 19th century, becoming inspired by the impressions they took of city-life. Unlike New York, where everyone aggressively minds their own business, Paris welcomes curiosity. From the layout of the cafés, where every seat has an uninhibited view of the busy street, to the bridges from which one can watch passing boats or consider the differences between the two banks, to the rolling hills that provide the perfect vantage point to see at the city as a whole, Paris taught me to really look at the things happening around me. By the end of the summer, I had visited all 20 arrondissements, dropping over 100 pins on my Apple Maps along the way. My summer of flânerie ignited in me a passion for urban life so fierce that I even changed my major to Urban Studies. I am hoping that my studies will help me experience the excitement and inspiration that I felt this summer as I explored Paris, wherever I go next.

A former student from the program told me that this would be the best summer of my life. I was suspicious, but I took his advice; I cannot express how happy I am that I did. It is clear to me that this program has changed the course of my personal and professional life, not to mention fulfilling the tall order of being the best summer I have ever had.