By Sofia Prado Arenzana
Do you remember arriving in Reims?
It was almost two years ago, but something about starting a new chapter in life sticks with you.
College is exciting. Within the first few days in the City of Kings, I felt a sense of independence unlike ever before. It was summer, and the warm breeze embraced us as we first made our way down Rue Gambetta. Arriving on time to the light show at the Cathedral seemed like the only concern, and friendships were formed over Crous coffees, history quizzes, and a chipped tooth at the Playoffs. It felt easy.
Everything was big, unknown. Second-years were adults who knew their way around. Associations were institutional pillars of rigor and integrity. Reims still felt like a city, and the campus buzzed with activity. Fresh from high school, I thought these would be my first steps into the “real” world.
Until I no longer did.
Soon enough, I got used to it; Reims is not very big after all.
Faces became familiar quickly. Grades started to come in – a rude awakening for international students under the mistaken impression that the French twenty-point system can (and should) be converted to a percentage. Things like laundry and grocery shopping began to actively occupy our minds, and the whirlwind of adventure took a bow, making room for routine.
Day after day, navigating the microcosmos of our university was slightly suffocating at times. There was impostor syndrome; there was the feeling that you had entered a (somewhat civilized) Golding-esque universe; there were small-town blues, and there was the cold. On top of that, there was juggling your own problems, those that existed beyond these cobbled streets and shaped you more than the other lot combined. And there was feeling uncentered, off-balance – homesick. I’d lie if I were to deny that there were some days when, God, I needed to get out of this place for a while.
I suppose that staying is part of growing up. In such moments, I became conscious of the fact that I was on my own, experiencing life with the combined fatigue of teenage anxieties and adult apprehensions. Granted, it was when I learned the most – about myself and what mattered. I don’t think it was necessarily linked to Sciences Po, nor our campus in particular; it’s likely to be something I would have felt regardless of time and place. In the bildungsroman of my life, it was the chapter where I left home and faced the reality that came with it. It was the beginning of an epoch of self-discovery.
And it was a profoundly liberating realization.
Recently, I have been looking back on the adventures I have lived over the course of these two years. Partly, I have done this out of senioritis-induced nostalgia. Mostly, however, I have done this because they were adventures, in every sense of the word. Getting on random trains with a giddy thrum in my veins and a dying cell phone, I became aware of the fact that the only person I must answer to is myself. And that’s life, is it not? It’s managing to get around with an abysmal French and unfettered confidence. And it’s strolling down the canal listening to a song from Piketty’s lecture, chuckling to yourself about how you ended up there in the first place. It’s sharing a laugh over the simulation in which we find ourselves and choosing a journey to embark on.
I guess what I want to say is that I will miss it here.
Yes, our time in Reims may have had its ups and downs, but it was special. We built friendships we will not soon forget and gently weaved ourselves into the fabric of this funny little community.
It may sound dramatic to reminisce about such a short-lived period; perhaps it is. I just never imagined these years ever to be so formative. Bizarrely, I feel like I have grown into myself.
One day, we will be older and enter the capitalist machine, and we’ll wistfully recall our time at university. We’ll support France in a World Cup, go to a Christmas market, or pass by Gare de l’Est, smiling. They will be reminders of an integral part of our youths.
While it is saddening to think that it may all soon come to an end, I don’t think I would have changed much of it if I could turn back the hourglass. It warms me to think that this is a place I have called home, however briefly.