Studying abroad, or any foreign experience for that matter, is said to be a time of self-realization and reflection. It is a time to learn more than what can be learned in a classroom. Lately, my reflections have been about home. This seems unlikely; I should be thinking about what is here and around me, however the things I love about Paris keep reminding me of the things I adore about home, namely Seattle.
I will be the first to admit that Seattle, technically, is not my home. I was born in Southern California, raised in Bothell, grew up in Snohomish, and go to school in Pullman. Of these "homes", Snohomish and Pullman are my true homes: here is where I find my family, my friends, my favorite memories, the restaurants I love, and the streets that I drive. However, I have found that most people have a city that by geographical default they find themselves connected to. In Northern California this is often San Francisco, on the east coast it may be Boston, or for those further north, New York. In the midwest people call back to Chicago or Madison. Naturally, in the Pacific Northwest, the city 25 minutes south by I-5 is home: Seattle. The Emerald City, if you will.
And what a beautiful place it is. Don't get me wrong, I love Paris. The history, the beauty, the culture and the food, is all exquisite. I cannot think of many cities that could rival what Paris has to offer, which quite frankly, is everything. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, the things I love about Paris have highlighted the things I love about Seattle. The tiny cups of espresso on sidewalk cafe tables call back visions of large, white paper cups warming hands each morning; the even and elaborately-designed buildings send my mind to bunches of evergreens peeking over houses' rooftops; dozens of bridges over the calm Seine bring the sound of rushing rivers from the dark grey mountains lining every horizon; the finely-dressed people make my heart yearn for flannel, Vans sneakers and crew-neck sweatshirts; the people's eyes staring straight ahead with a such a strong sense of purpose splashed across the surrounding face spark wishes for the laid-back, friendly vibe of a smile and a hug, when the response to the question "What should we do today?" is just not that important. We'll figure it out as we go.
I cannot compare the two places, it would be impossible. I cannot call one better than the other, it just wouldn't be fair. The beauty of each city is so unique and its culture so different I would be moving backwards in my quest toward cultural competence if I made any judgments whatsoever. All I know is when I see the Eiffel Tower, I have the Space Needle in the back of my mind. What I know is that while falling in love with one city, I'm rediscovering my fondness for another.
It just might be the most beautiful experience I have ever had.