Parisian Spring: Interview with Tanya Brothen

Semester in Paris: Tanya in front of the Eiffel Tower.A semester in Paris: Tanya in the City of Lights.

Paris. For many people, it is the quintessential travel destination. Quite simply, it is the place to go.

Tanya Brothen is a graduate student who decided to shift pace and move to Paris for the final semester of her Master’s Degree in International Affairs. Was Paris her ultimate dream destination?

TravelBlogs caught up with Tanya to find out whether the City of Lights lives up to all the hype.

Why did you decide to do your final semester in Paris?

I knew I wanted to spend a semester in Paris before I even applied to graduate school. I had studied in France before and really wanted to do it again, so I only looked into schools that had an exchange program with a university in Paris. I just thought that brushing up on my French and exploring the City of Lights would be a great way to end my time as a student.

Paris is a dream destination for many people. Was it a long-held ambition of yours to visit Paris?

Not really. I kind of fell into it. The road to Paris started in 8th grade when we had to pick a second language: Spanish, German, or French. I chose French and stuck with it through high school and eventually it became my second major as an undergrad. During my junior year of college I studied in Cannes, France and visited Paris for a long weekend. I hated it! It was too cold and too crowded. All I wanted was to be back on the warm beaches of southern France. During another long-term stay in France in 2003-2004 I didn’t even bother visiting Paris. I thought I would never want to go back, but then a second weekend trip in late 2005 convinced me otherwise. I finally fell in love with Paris and knew I needed to spend a significant amount of time there.

Do you think Paris lives up to the hype?

The feeling you get here is pure magic.

Yes and no. There are ways in which it lives up to the hype, and then some. For example, people sometimes talk about the atmosphere of this city and how there’s nothing else like it. They’re right! The feeling you get here is pure magic. Add in the amazing architecture, the endless museums, monuments, and historical sites, a romantically winding river, delicious food and charming neighborhoods and how could you not like it here? But at the end of the day, it can feel just like any other big city: cramped, dirty, and unfriendly. I think that’s why I didn’t like Paris the first time I visited it. I bought into the hype too much and didn’t think about the realities.

How affordable is it living in Paris?

Well…the dollar’s not so hot at the moment, so that definitely poses a problem. I lived in Washington, DC before moving to Paris so I was used to the high cost of living, but some things here are a bit ridiculous. I definitely can’t indulge my shopping addiction in the same way that I can back home. At the same time, it’s definitely not as bad as everyone told me it would be. It’s like living in any big, expensive city. You watch your budget and make it work. I indulge in experiences that I know I can’t get anywhere else, and I save by not buying stupid things that I don’t need.

How do you deal with homesickness?

Being connected 24/7 helps. The first two times I stayed in France I didn’t have my own laptop, there was no such thing as skype, and communication with home required trips to expensive internet caf├ęs. Now I have a laptop and wireless internet connection in my apartment. I can listen to NPR, watch some American television shows, and call friends and family online for free. I had a pretty bad bout of homesickness last month, so I blogged about it. That helped too; getting it out in the open. But sometimes, there’s not much you can do. Despite the fact that I love to travel and spend time overseas, I have always been someone who suffers from homesickness on a regular basis. Sometimes you just have to ride it out. There are always better days ahead!

Is this your first trip overseas?

No. I’ve been to France multiple times, Italy, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Iceland, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and the Dominican Republic. I’m dying to visit Norway, Sweden and Greece.

So you’ve travelled quite a bit. What is it about travelling that appeals to you?

I love new experiences, and traveling provides new experiences on a daily basis. I also enjoy the challenges of getting myself around an unfamiliar city, of discovering a different way of life, and of meeting new people. I guess you could say that traveling gives me a high – and I’m addicted!

Is living and working overseas something you’d like to do?

Yes, definitely. I would love to spend more than a couple of months in a foreign country. I’m currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Affairs, so hopefully that will lend itself to overseas opportunities. But even if I end up living and working abroad for a significant amount of time, I think I would always eventually want to move back to the US. The ultimate dream would be a life in US close to family and friends with a second home in Paris or Provence so that I could visit anytime I wanted.

You can read about Tanya’s semester in Paris at her blog, Parisian Spring.

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