This entry is cross-posted at Behind Barz.
For those of you who are familiar with the about section of my Facebook timeline, you will have noticed that I state my current location as Paris, France. That is not mere wishful thinking. I live in Paris now.
I know, I have had all of the same questions. I moved at the very end of September 2012 to pursue a Fulbright grant that I won in the spring of 2012. And yes, I think that is just as crazy as you do.
I’m here to take classes in urban studies, geography, and public management at the Université de Paris Ouest à Nanterre and also likely at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. Over the course of the 2012-2013 school year, I am also going to do a research project on the Velib’ bikesharing program, which is considered one of the world’s best examples of urban bikesharing systems.
So why haven’t you heard about this until now?
Well, lots of reasons. Some legitimate, and some less so. While it is a true honor to have received a Fulbright grant, it’s inherently disruptive. The US State Department with the host country (France, in this case) grants the recipient a research stipend for the academic year, in my case eight months, which for someone like me, who had a job, an apartment, a new boyfriend, an extracurricular nonprofit, and a great group of friends in a city I love, is just long enough to have to give up most of those things, but not quite long enough to establish yourself some place new.
Coming to terms over the past spring and summer that I was leaving for France was definitely bittersweet. It was not something that I had an easy time talking about with my friends and family, never mind the internets.
But to terms with it I am coming! In fact as I have gotten more situated in Paris over the past three weeks, it has started to dawn on me that I. Live. In. Paris. Wow. Moreover, some governments decided to pay me for the privilege.
To add a touch of icing to this gateau Parisian, I’ve wanted to live in Paris since I was 15. A study abroad program in Paris, was an important criterion for me when searching for colleges. Then, when I went to Smith, I promptly did not study abroad. On top of that, even though I really wanted to, I did not apply for a Fulbright when I graduated from college. By living in France for this school year, I’m actually getting to live out a childhood dream. For that I find myself fortunate beyond compare.
My time in France so far has been occupied with being oriented to Fulbright, searching for housing, meeting my research advisors, searching for housing, setting up a bank account, practicing French, searching for housing, attempting to speak French, crying about how hard it is to find housing, watching Mad Men, starting classes, finding a new mobile phone, complaining about how hard it to understand French when it is spoken by Parisians, and eating croissants.
While the language barrier continues to be a bit harder than I expected, I’m making do. I have started going to conversation groups, I listen to the daily news briefing on Radio France International in “Français facile,” and I have a plan to watch at least one French movie a week. Oh yes, and I insist on speaking French here, even when the natives “English” me in response.
To make good on my grant proposal to Fulbright, I will be writing semiweekly here about bikesharing, Velib’, French urbanism, public transportation, my travels in France etc.
Of course, I need to take a moment to thank the many many people who helped me win this Fulbright grant. Thank you to Smith College Fellowships Advisor Donald Andrew for your indefatigable editing abilities and exacting standards, and to my fellowship mentor Smith College Professor Nick Horton for guiding me through the process last fall. Thank you to my application consultants Wayne Feiden, Dr. Susan Shaheen, and Smith College Professor James Lowenthal for your feedback. Thank you to my recommenders Smith College Professors Kiki Gounaridou and Alice Hearst and my former supervisor at Grist.org, Russ Walker. Thank you to Smith College Professor Robert Dorit for connecting me with colleagues in France as well as nearly the entire Smith College French Department for making suggestions about who to meet when in France.
Thank you to Université de Paris Ouest à Nanterre Professeure Marie Hélène Bacqué for welcoming me into the Mosaiques Lab, and to Maître de Conférence Frédéric Dufaux for helping me with my research.
I’m neglecting others who helped me with this project, and for that I apologize, but thank you nevertheless!
Finally, I need to thank my friends, family, and former colleagues at Greenbelt Alliance who were excited about this even when I was less enthused (thanks Margolis, Alexis, Jen, and ABS!). Thanks to my friends and fellow co-organizers of Spokespeople for putting up with my 8-month absence. Thanks to my parents who have supported me in this and many other endeavors in ways that are too numerous to list, and thank you to Ian, my dear, who is putting up with the 9-timezone difference to provide daily emotional support and free French lessons.
Thank you all. I feel so lucky, and once I move into my bonafide Parisian apartment on Nov. 1, you are all cordially invited to visit.