Thanks to the English Department’s invitation to take up an international exchange opportunity at the Université Paris-Est Créteil, I am suddenly living about 13km outside Paris. Surreal. Never more so than when I find myself exiting a train station and coming face to face with Notre Dame when I’m actually just on my way to the bank. How everyday life for the locals continues uninterrupted is beyond me – I constantly find myself stopping to snap a photograph of one marvel or another.
Since my arrival, I have also been noticing people, especially those who at some point are likely to have felt, like me, a sense of their foreignness in this space. My landlords in Villeneuve-le-Roi are from Iran. At the épicerie de la Gare down the street from my house, the owner and I exchange broken pleasantries in a mixture of English, French and Arabic. At UPEC I have begun to make friends from all over the world: Lithuania and Bulgaria, Italy and Germany, Algeria, the Ukraine and beyond. Already, I am the richer for the opportunity to be a foreigner in France, to experience the diversity of the country’s inhabitants, their origins, and the languages they speak. I am especially privileged, in my position as exchange student, not to be alone in these experiences. Like many of my classmates, this is my first time living a life abroad. My learning began the moment I set foot on the plane departing Cape Town and while the curve has sometimes been steep (and my French remains atrocious), this semester abroad will bring horizons I’d never dared imagine.