Becoming a traveller

In Arrival, Paris, Art of Travel Spring 2016 by Shireen KhandelwalLeave a Comment

“Bienvenue à Paris”, this phrase, welcoming me to Paris, had been ingrained in my mind for about two hours as I stood waiting for my luggage, struggling to maintain a calm demeanor as I frantically tried to calm my nerves internally. Being an international student in New York, I was used to travelling alone for more than 24 hours and waiting patiently for my flight to begin boarding after an eight-hour layover in Abu Dhabi. This journey was the same. My mind hadn’t registered the change of destination from Abu Dhabi to Paris instead of New York. It was only as I stood there, waiting for my luggage that I realized I was in Paris.

From trying to find the shuttle I had booked prior to my arrival in Paris to being left in the middle of the street by the cab driver, the smiling face of a person hurrying out of a building in front of me was the only thing that kept my nerves from exploding. In retrospect, that moment, even though fleeting, was the one when I first realized how truly daunting the prospect of studying abroad alone is.

Even though coming to study in New York from India was challenging as well, it didn’t seem as overwhelming as studying in Paris, probably because my sister used to live in New York at the time. Never having experienced the actual struggle of adjusting with 6000 unfamiliar faces during my freshman semester (two of my best friends came with me to NYU), I was always in a comfortable home bubble. Perhaps that was the reason for my quick acceptance of New York City. I knew before coming to Paris that it was going to be a significantly different experience. While I knew that being in the City of Lights will aid me immensely in my concentration as I plan to minor in the French language, I still found it difficult to resist the temptation of comfort in New York.

The idea of improving my writing, which is a major part of my concentration till now, in the iconic city of Paris had always seemed appealing but Alain de Botton’s thoughts on the anticipation of travel being different from the reality of it accurately encapsulates my emotions after coming to Paris. I had envisioned myself sitting in a café on the bank of the Seine and reading a book for hours but I somehow found myself enveloped in a perpetual insecurity to be around and meet new people. I was, and still am to a certain extent seeing the city through the eyes of a tourist instead of a traveler. As Pico Iyer explained the difference between the two, I constantly compared Paris to New York. I guess that is the main difficulty in adjusting to a new environment, to let go of what we are used to and take pleasure in what is new.

Despite the challenging moments in trying to accustom myself to a different lifestyle, I do realize what an incredible opportunity I have to learn the language and culture of another country. I really hope to take in everything that this city has to offer and transition soon from being a tourist to a traveler. It’s been almost a month since I arrived here which is long enough for me start understanding the rhythm of this city. I’ve also realized that making mistakes here, are the best learning experiences, however clichéd that may sound.

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