This past summer, I had the opportunity to study abroad in beautiful Paris!
I applied to Reid Hall, through Columbia University, and was fortunate enough to be admitted to the program. And while I was so excited by the prospect of spending a summer living la vie en rose, I was perhaps most excited by the funding granted by Harvard, which enabled me to participate in the program without financial worry.
I knew that financial aid packages transfer to study abroad programs during the semester, but I was unsure of how I would afford a summer experience abroad. However, after a quick and helpful meeting with the Office of International Education, I learned that there are several ways to completely fund summer opportunities. I applied for funding through Harvard’s Office of Career Services, and through their generosity, I was able to pack my bags and say au revoir!
At Reid Hall, I took an intensive French language course, which involved learning and speaking French for four hours a day, four days a week! In the afternoons, we were free to explore our new home. I made it a personal mission to seek out the best croissant and baguette Paris had to offer (I never found a clear winner—there are way too many delicious options waiting on every corner!).
The program also organized activities and events throughout the summer. During one weekend, we visited Monet’s home and beautiful gardens, went to a wine tasting, ate dinner and spent the evening in a convent, saw the Bayeux Tapestry, and went to a medieval festival—all in under 24 hours! After that, we enjoyed a 5-course meal in an actual castle formerly owned by Walt Disney’s family. I genuinely had to keep pinching myself to make sure I hadn’t transcended reality and entered a world of fairy tales. The weekend culminated with a visit to Omaha Beach, one of the sites of D-Day. It was emotional and transformative to see the sacrifice that so many made during World War II, and to feel history come alive here. Visiting Omaha Beach is an experience I will never forget.
Our French class also got to participate in more ~avant-garde~ activities. One day after class, we took the metro to a neighborhood just outside of Paris, where we formed two teams of canoe rowers. A former French Olympian, our guide for the day, taught us proper form, and then sent us off on a race down the Seine. My friend, Domenic, and I, who were sitting in the back of the canoe, suddenly began to laugh hysterically at the absurd opportunity and privilege of the situation. As a first-gen, low-income student, I never would have imagined that I would be able to spend a summer abroad, let alone in this context! It was one of those moments that really put into perspective how many opportunities I have had through Harvard, and how grateful I am to be a student here.
The next week, our class got to practice our street-art skills by painting graffiti messages at a local park (don’t worry: It was totally legal!), after learning how to spray paint by a professional street artist. And I know what you’re thinking, “What do you mean, learn how to use spray paint? You just spray it!” But, as I soon found out, there is a technique and skill to spray paint that is much harder to execute than I thought! With a little bit (ok, a lot!) of help from Hugo, the street artist, my team created this masterpiece:
This summer was truly revolutionary. France’s laid-back, joie de vivre culture opened my eyes to the importance and joy of a work-life balance, something which at times can be hard to remember at Harvard. When I began junior year this past fall, I felt refreshed, and fell in love with Harvard all over again! Come rain or snow, I just think about relaxing in the sun, sharing a picnic of baguettes, fromage, grapes, and wine by the Seine, and that happy thought carries me to my next class. Spending a summer abroad was full of some of the most special moments of my life, and these are memories I will treasure forever.