My brother and best friend dropped me at Logan Airport. I flew with a girlfriend from school. We landed the next morning and slept in a hotel with bunk beds until we found families from which to rent rooms. Outside, the air was heavy and grey. Ambulance sirens screamed with a totally different cadence. It was foreign in every sense of the word.
For four months, I took classes that would fulfill my credit requirements back home (advertising, notably). But other classes that I never would have found on my conservative business school campus: feminism and a harrowing, hardcore literature class led by a crazy British professor in which we studied, and I stumbled through, The Decameron, holy shit.
I traveled: Amsterdam, Switzerland, Barcelona, Florence, Greece, the Loire Valley.
I drank in the open—how civilized! (My scarfing of burgers, fries and tuna sandwiches to stave off homesickness, not so much.)
I made new friends. I can still see their faces though I can only remember a couple names.
And, most important, I fell in love. With Paris.
It was another eight years before I got back. But on every subsequent trip, Paris was more and more under my skin. I started going as often as I could, trying different neighborhoods, testing out all seasons. I ate different things, found new museums, sat in different parks, and returned to old favorites and felt a connection from doing so. I came to know the city better and the more I knew, the more I wanted. I felt it was part of me. I needed it.
And then there was that fateful day in 2008. The chance to move to Paris with my ad agency. The proverbial opportunity of a lifetime. The start of the most profound and liberating and magical and life-defining stint I could ever imagine.
And it all started 20 years ago.
Would I have had my two years in Paris—my new friends, my book, my career, my home, my memories, my feelings, my attachment, my profound love—if I hadn’t first gone there as a college student? I don’t think so. It makes me so proud of, and so grateful for, the courage of that 20-year-old girl getting on a flight 20 years ago.