A semester in Paris with Sweet Briar

David McElrath
JYF Sweet Briar
Paris, France 2018

Slow goodbyes and Yellow Jackets – on partings during the “jillets jaunes manifestations de 2018”

I find that it’s always helpful to take a moment to look back over a period of time, or an experience of some sort, and to savor and appreciate it fully before my memory naturally applies a rose-tinted filter. It’s good to remember the good with the bad, the hard and the easy, things won and lost. As I approach the end of my semester abroad (six days to go from the writing of this post), I find myself preparing to leave with a certain sense of satisfaction. This semester has been awesome – the things I have done and accomplished in my time here are worth remembering. But, I think the time has come for me to go home. While no stranger to spending most of a year away from my family and friends back in the states, I find it beginning to weigh on me. It’s not homesickness (at least, not fully), but it does remind me of being homesick. Ideally, I would want my leave-taking of the semester to be some kind of a mature farewell to this place, time, and all the people I have met here.

On the other hand, Paris is not precisely a wonderful place to be just now. France enjoys a culture of political activity and vibrancy that, I think, outweighs that of most in America. Yet, sadly, when the circumstances come around, that same passion for politics lends itself to violent displays. It’s hard to write about, in many ways, because I want to distance myself from it and view it intellectually if I can. But at the same time, I am not sure how that is possible. It’s something I can feel on the metro from day to day – a sense of urgency and pressure holding itself over the entire city. Even as I scramble to get in my last few assignments and exams, I can’t help but look out onto the streets and see where tens of thousands of protesters have been gathering these last few weeks. It’s sad to see a city renowned for charming exploration and sight-seeing suddenly rendered off-limits to most of the public. It’s an interesting send-off, and not one I expected. All the same, it does make me glad to be going home, glad for the opportunity to rest, to speak English freely, and once more to the coming semester back at H-SC.

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