Final Thoughts


How does one begin to conclude the end of something incredible?

In all my blog posts, I have tried very hard not to romanticize Paris or the exchange experience. But I think the time for critique and for the cynicism so in vogue with intellectuals is over. Paris simply is. It exists for our interpretation. I will try to assign descriptors, but any attempt will inevitably fall short.

As much as the time for critique has passed, it is not yet time for critical reflection. With one week of class remaining, and two weeks left in France, I can barely start to describe the incredible things I have experienced this month, not to mention offer an insightful reflection on my entire experience. With more time and distance, I would be able to extract the themes, the lessons, the threads that will shape this experience into some sort of coherent dialogue. For now, I can only endeavour to sort through a jumbled mix of sadness, denial and deep gratitude.

View of Montmartre & Le Figaro

View of Montmartre & Le Figaro

It is difficult not to become somewhat teary-eyed when attending my last classes. Time seems to have contracted with the start of my last month in France until every day, every hour has become saturated with feeling. Everything is more meaningful. Every little detail has become precious and new. As much as time seems to pass so much faster, Paris seems to have been distilled to a series of intricate instances – the smell of fresh bread from the bakery downstairs, the snatches of fast conversation, the cool bite of the wind, the press of people as I mutter pardon while hurrying to class.

It is also incredibly difficult to contemplate the end of such an incredible journey. And my time in Paris is very much a journey in learning about the world, about people, and most importantly, about myself. I could have learned the same had I stayed in Toronto, but I would not have learned as quickly, as powerfully, or as pleasantly as I have now.

I started my study at University of Toronto with the decision to go study abroad. In many ways, and perhaps paradoxically, going on exchange was a safe choice for me. Sure, I will be living in a foreign country, learning a foreign language, and accustoming myself to a foreign culture, but it was something for which I had years to mentally prepare. But for all my plans and ideas, this experience went far beyond what I had expected.

It has challenged me. And it has changed me.

My experience has not always been positive, but it has always forced me to be honest with myself. It has forced me to re-evaluate my priorities and my values. I am endlessly frustrated with the administration at Sciences Po, but I am infinitely grateful for the people I have met. These people, so incredibly diverse even after having lived in Toronto for the better part of my life, are the pillars of my time in Paris. We have stumbled through the streets of Paris, awed and lost together. We have explored the countryside and other countries together, always eager to look for something new, something meaningful and something that strikes our fancy. I have had provocative and ruminating conversations in cafes, hunched over the tiny cups of espresso, emulating those great literary figures in bygone days. I have butchered and reconstructed my French, and realized that for all the political and cultural differences between us, we all shared the same worries and the same dreams.

I think this exchange has given me a personal experience with the commonality of humanity, which is infinitely more precious and hopeful than any of my classes on the economy or on defence and security.

Giverny - Monet's water lilly garden

Giverny – Monet’s water lilly garden

Exchange is not the only opportunity out there to experience the world. But these opportunities do not come easily. There is a often quoted sentence from Hemingway.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

It is an apt statement. Paris is cruel and infinitely kind towards her children. And as her child, even for a few short months, I will always carry a part of her with me.

I would extend this quote to all exchange experiences. No matter where you go for your exchange, if you open yourself, the city, the people, and the culture will stay with you.

People have different things to which they are striving, different things they desire. Exchange was mine. And it may very well be yours. Good luck to every one of you on your personal journeys.

Au revoir, et à bientôt. 

Grace Gao


Should you have any questions, or just want to talk, you can reach me at my utmail address.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *