Howdy! My name is Daniela Castro, and I am a ’20 Gilman Alumni Ambassador. I studied abroad on the Gilman in Paris, France summer of 2017. I studied Intensive French for a month at the Catholic Institute of Paris with other students from my America university, FSU and from all over the world. With it being Valentine’s Day weekend, I would like to dedicate today’s blog post on the meaningful relationships I created while abroad.
Leaving to study abroad in Paris was my first time leaving the United States. I needed to arrive a couple days early for my program because of flight prices, so I stayed with another student from my program, Kelsey, at a hotel just 5 minutes away from where our lodgings for the program would be. After we dropped our bags off and had dinner at a local restaurant, we made our way back to have a long sleep and finally adjust to the 6-hour time difference. The receptionist overheard our English and asked us where we are from. In my head I thought “oh no, how much information should I share? We are just two girls in a completely new place alone…”, I decided to say the truth, since he already heard my accent, and I knew that lying would make matters worse. He told us his name was Massi, and we ended up talking the entire night. He talked to both Kesley and I about his home in Algeria and how he was in Paris studying for an engineering degree. He also shared how he worked the night shifts for the hotel we stayed at to afford his living expenses. Massi gave us dates and explained how they are a common delicacy in North Africa. It was the first time I had consumed a date and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I ended up visiting him at the hotel after my program began as I wanted to hear more about his life. We still communicate via WhatsApp today.
The next relationship that holds near and dear to my heart is with a young woman from Taiwan who was studying with me at L’institute Catholique de Paris. After the first 3 days of studying with each other in school, we hit it off. Each day after school, we explored all of Paris together. We went to see the National Ballet of Cuba perform, ate falafel at L’As Du Falafel, walked under the Eiffel Tower and more throughout our month of completing the Intensive French program. She shared delicious chocolate from her country with me and we still talk with each other today.
This last relationship I want to share with you all was the most special of all relationships I made that summer. It is July 14, which is Bastille Day in Paris. This is France’s Independence Day. On this day, Paris shuts down some of its firefighter stations to hold “Bal des Pompiers,” aka parties. My American friend, Talia, and I went to a few fire stations but near the end of the night, I had to go to the bathroom bad. I am sure you heard the rumors about paying for bathrooms in Europe. While not totally true, finding a public restroom is near impossible or the public ones have a line that extends a mile long. I could not hold it anymore, so there I am, running as fast as I can to find the nearest restaurant to use their facilities while Talia is struggling to keep up with me. Not totally paying attention to where I was going since it was dark out, I end up running into a random guy that was with his friends. He ends up speaking in French, bad French I may add, saying that I have his same watch. I explained how I really have to use the restroom and he said he will stop bothering me if I just give him my number. I said fine whatever, it’s just a number, and he was certain I had given him a fake number and tested it out just to be sure. I was able to break free with Talia and relieve the gallons of water I drank earlier that evening.
The next day, I decide to text him and ask if he was alright because he was very intoxicated. He responded, confirming that he is alive and decided to call me. Turns out he was from London with a heavy cockney accent. We chatted in English for almost an hour as he shared his background with me and how he is in Paris after just graduating from Uni to work for BNP Paribas. His name is Tristan, and it turns out our watches were not the same. Go figure. He and I became best friends in the 3 weeks we had to get to know each other. We ate gelato at Amorino (you have to eat their ice cream roses), visited the Pantheon, saw the premier of Dunkirk and so much more. It was hard to leave him and go back to the states.
Once I did make it back to Florida State to finish my studies in math, Tristan and I talked every other day. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that I should visit him and his family in London that winter break. Sure enough, I was able to pull together just enough money for the cheapest roundtrip flight to London. Of course, just like the first encounter with Massi, I was concerned for my safety, after all, I only knew Tristan in person for 3 weeks. Making sure my location was shared indefinitely with family members I made it out to London and continued to deepen the friendship with Tristan as I explored the English culture and learn about where he grew up. He is still one of my best friends to this day and I look forward to visiting him in Paris when I am in Europe this upcoming year.
If you are reading this and have aspirations to study, research or work abroad, I highly encourage you to do so and take advantage of the life-long friendships you will make. If you are an undergrad and fulfill the requirements to apply for the Gilman, please do so as well! In addition to providing funding for a credit-bearing program abroad, you will join an incredible network of people that will give you an opportunity to make even more meaningful relationships beyond your study abroad program. Thank you all. Have a great Valentine’s Day and President’s Day.