The dream trip to Paris turns into a nightmare when the city fails to live up to the expectations of a college student away from home for the first time.
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Stepping off the plane in Paris for a six-week study tour, Candace, the heroine of the story, embarked on a cross-cultural adventure that changed her in ways she could never have imagined. After falling victim to a pickpocket her third day in the city, having a cultural meltdown in a grocery store, and a myriad of other misadventures, Candace realized that the city that she was actually in was not the Paris, City of Lights, that she had built up in her dreams. The book is the chronicle of how she learned to be a stranger in a foreign city and deal with the weight of the culture shock that she experienced. She tells of the moments when homesickness hit the hardest and how she picked herself up and came to know the magic that the real Paris has to offer.
What was I thinking? Was I crazy when I signed up for this? Thoughts like those kept flooding my head as I was standing in the rain completely alone in Paris. I had no idea what I was doing and the reasons why I was there had completely escaped me for the moment. I had fallen in love with Paris watching movies like Sabrina and French Kiss. The heroines all had marvelous experiences and then came back home with an air of mystery and sophistication. I had wanted my own European adventure. I wanted to be Sabrina. I had studied French in high school and then more intensely in college. I thought I was ready for five weeks in Paris. How could my dreams have gone so wrong?
Whenever I heard someone speak French, it always struck me as being so melodious and so much lovelier than English. The words flowed together silkily into something almost songlike. Just hearing the word for “green beans” in French, des haricots verts, was so much more charming and romantic than the English version. Then I had the chance to study French in high school. That was it. I was enamored of the language and the culture. I learned about towers and monuments and museums. I also learned about infamous French delicacies like breads and desserts. I loved learning about the French language and the French culture so much I decided to continue in college.
Three semesters of high school French left me little prepared for the jump to upper level French classes in college. I did not know that everyone speaks just French in class – no English. That was a scary transition. It took awhile before my brain learned to process coherent thoughts in a language other than the one it had been using for decades. A few semesters later, I had improved so much that I felt like a pro in my French classes. I actually understood the majority of what everyone was saying. Not only that, but I could even string sentences and thoughts together in French so that other people seemed to understand. I felt confident. Studying about France in a classroom ceased to satisfy me. I felt like I could easily make it in France.
Then I was handed a brochure. There was a clip art picture of the Eiffel Tower on the front and the caption read “Summer Trip to Paris.” Oh yes, I was intrigued. Up to that point in my life I had never left the United States, though I had a yearning in the pit of my stomach to see more of the world than what had been at my fingertips. I looked at the price of the trip. Yowser! But it was for five weeks in Paris. Paris! Oh, I had to do it somehow. I mulled over the brochure. The classes sounded exotic and alluring and intriguing and so much better than the statistics or boring biology classes that I had been subjected to lately. I could experience art at the Louvre. The real life Louvre! And another class offered on the trip was a study tour of some of the famous Parisian sites. I knew I wanted to go, but could I do it? Yet how could I let an opportunity like this pass me by? It was one of those decisions that could be a pivotal moment in my life here on the planet or it could be a “what-if” that I would regret for the rest of my life.
I talked to financial aid. Yes, I could get money to cover the expense. That was the first hurdle. Next, I would have to sell the idea to my parents. My mom was very encouraging about the trip. She thought it would be a great experience and even seemed jealous about it. My dad, though, was the one who was going to be a tough sell. He was not really one for travel, plus it was the summer after September 11th. He had his concerns about terrorists and bombings and all the other calamities that could befall a hapless American tourist in a foreign city. Aside from that and the price tag, he could not find a way to talk me out of the idea. That was as much of a “yes” as I was going to get, so I ran with the plan to see the city that had plagued my dreams since I knew what the Eiffel Tower was.