This summer, Sarah Chong had the chance to live her dream of traveling to Paris. Through UCLA’s study abroad program, Sarah had the opportunity to take two courses to fulfill her history major requirements while surrounding herself in the romance of Paris. Fortunately, she shares her experience with Campus Circle.

Why did you decide to partake in the study abroad program?

Mainly because college is the time to experience new things; one of the greatest opportunities in college is traveling. Studying abroad is a unique experience that is accessible for each college student. It is also the perfect time to travel when you are learning more about yourself and enriching your mind through experiencing other cultures. The Paris program, led by Teo Ruiz, is geared towards history majors like me; however, the non-history major students enjoyed it just as much.

Did you have any expectations for Paris?

This was my first time traveling to Europe, so I kept an open mind towards everything. I was nervous and excited. When I stepped out of the airport, it was raining and very overcast. It did not even feel like Europe because it really felt like Los Angeles still! As I was sitting in the train to go to my hotel, I saw graffiti everywhere, and the people I saw through the windows looked no different from Americans. The diversity of those individuals dazzled me so much; I was almost tempted to speak American English to them. My hotel even resembled some in LA. But when I glanced outside my hotel window, I saw the Eiffel Tower! Immediately, I forgot my first impression of Paris, and started to walk farther into Paris. As I strolled along, the stark differences between Europe and America surfaced. I began to visit buildings whose architecture seemed to fall right out of my history textbooks. It was unbelievable to see all the places I have been watching in the movies. I felt like I was in a movie because my surroundings were so beautiful and sublime.

What is your impression of the culture in Paris?

One of the things that Professor Teo drilled into our minds is that we were not tourists but Parisians. He wanted to show us how to live like Parisians. So all 40 of us in the program would sit for three hours to eat a meal unlike how quickly we Americans eat. In Paris, company during a meal is greatly valued. Parisians will spend time – whether they are sitting in cafés or on the streets – to chat with friends for hours. At cafés, chairs are facing toward the streets so customers can look to the streets and watch people pass by.

There is an energy and a love for life that is so distinct in Paris. The street culture is incredible. As I stroll down the streets, I wondered how one city could embody all this amazing talent. People are so good at what they do – drawing, singing, playing music, etc. Along a few streets, you will find about six galleries, and in each gallery, you will see all the artists there talking about their artworks.

What is something else you love about Paris?

In Paris, everyone loves reading. I go on the metro and everyone has a book in their hands, reading. My favorite place is a bookstore called Shakespeare and Company, which is actually featured in the movie called Midnight in Paris. In this bookstore, there are a myriad of English versions of great classics. The bookstore used to be a place for writers to drop in to write. Many antiques adorn the spaces, and as I ventured upstairs, a pianist will play music without any sheet music. Crawling with lovers of reading, it is the perfect atmosphere to read.

Is there another amazing place to visit if we’re in Paris?

There cannot be a spot more worthy of picnics than the field right in front of the Eiffel Tower called Champ de Mars. The view is indescribable, with musicians, artists and street vendors. As I sat there, eating some bread and cheese and drinking wine, I saw the Eiffel Tower light up.

How did living in Paris while you studied history help you learn better?

Traveling has helped me gain perspective to study history as I am challenged to visualize the information and dates that textbooks present in action. I began to realize that what I am studying called history is the reality of those who lived in the past. Their reality has influenced and encouraged our reality. I see everything around me as a result of what occurred in the past. When I returned to L.A., I began to see how it is engrossed in its history.

Do you think traveling has helped you grow personally in addition to academically?

When you travel, you are placed out of your comfort zone; you experience new cultures. Travels stretch your mind to be open to different ideas, beliefs and feelings. I believe I grew a lot in my time in Paris. I see new perspectives. I see how many people there are in our world. I am now more focused on others and different experiences rather than me and my needs. Not to say that I realized how small I actually am in this world, but that the world has so much to offer that if I only focus on myself, I am missing out on so much more. There are lots more places I wish to travel, and I am thrilled that I can proudly say I ventured through Paris.

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