Somehow I didn’t fully comprehend that I’d be spending an entire lunar cycle in my new home city—sorry D.C., you’ve been upstaged—before actually setting foot in the IEP/Sciences Po Lyon classroom building until I was deeply immersed in my impromptu holiday. This unexpectedness served to make my vacation that more extraordinary. Despite the fact that I’m now a week into classes, I’m not quite ready to leave my charmed and blissfully uncomplicated life behind so as a way to prolong the adventure, I’m recording (parts of) it here.
I can’t bring myself to focus on any one portion of the last month as (nearly) every day has been magical, so please forgive me this somewhat frenetic recap: I’ve eaten gelato with five new friends of five nationalities—and I thought my Georgetown circle diverse—against a backdrop of the Saône on one side and the kind of picturesque stone edifices one might imagine when one hears the word “Europe” on the other. I’ve biked in a city for the first time, at night and wearing a dress no less. I’ve picnicked amongst the remains of an amphitheater above the city with three Germans and an Italian (and no, that’s not the beginning of a crude joke). I’ve attended soirées on two different boats with two different crowds on two different rivers without leaving Lyon. I’ve baked chocolate chip cookies using foreign ingredients and measurement systems—I had no idea cups and teaspoons don’t exist on this side of the Atlantic and that instead everything is done by scale or whatever internal system my host mom employs at will—at my host family’s request (shoutout to fellow Georgetown student Lavanya without whom I would not have accomplished this feat). I’ve swam in the mediterranean and explored a perfectly preserved medieval city. I could easily double the length of this paragraph but I’ll leave it there.
Even my introductory course felt like an academically sanctioned vacation. It was called “Lyon, ville durable ?” During morning classes we had discussions about sustainability and climate change in relation to our home countries and Lyon, interspersed with—actually useful!—crash courses in key aspects of the French language we might not yet have grasped. In the afternoons we visited places like community gardens and bike co-ops. One Monday afternoon we had a wine and charcuterie tasting at L’Epicerie Equitable, a short walk from Université Lumière (“Lyon 2”) where the class was held. Yet another benefit of this utterly grueling experience was the opportunity it awarded to meet fellow international students from around the world.
Although I’ve heard time and time again that study abroad is a life changing experience—and evidently I believed this wisdom enough to sign up for a full year—my fear of disappointment drives me to limit expectations in advance of new endeavors. I find that what expectations I do have, because given human propensity to envision future outcomes to the point of obsession it’s impossible to be truly expectation-less, are generally at least modestly exceeded but this past month has been miles—I mean kilometers—better than anything I dared to hope for. Not to call it too soon, but like, let’s be real, study abroad is looking to be the best time of my life. (She says, having yet to finalize, or even attend, most of her classes).
Looking back over my time in Lyon and beyond, I feel incredibly privileged to have had experiences only a select subsection of the world’s population has the opportunity and means to access. I will cherish the memories I have made during this first month as I prepare to tackle the beast of bureaucracy which has been rearing its grotesque head in the background of my idyllic world. And, once it’s sufficiently sedated (I realize I have little chance of slaying it, and besides, I don’t condone animal cruelty), embrace my life as a student in this city I’m honored to call my (temporary, for now) home. I don’t want to sound too fatalistic—I realize that this is the this is not the end of my adventures in la capitale de la gastronomie but rather merely the beginning and I have no doubt I will continue to have life-changing experiences here whether or not they all resemble an—admittedly rather protracted—nonstop highlights reel.