(This post was originally published on my personal blog, Of Postcards & Ink, between 2015-2016.)
“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea
Making an unfamiliar city feel like home is something I don’t think any number of UNSW pre-departure briefings, expat blogs or hypothesised contingencies could have fully prepared me for. The last four weeks have swept me off my feet and carried me along in a flurry of everything from new friends, old friends, new classes, French geopolitics and methodology, markets, bakeries, art and history, to the mundane ins and outs of grocery shopping, recipe-trying and homeware-shopping. It’s been a scattered mix of days where pearls slipped softly off a string and days where boulders felt like they were tumbling unceremoniously down from the sky. It’s been wonderful, beautiful and bittersweet all at once, but more than anything, an experience saturated by God’s grace and goodness in more ways than I can count.
Home, sweet home
People’s eyes have a tendency to widen and gloss over a little whenever one mentions that they’re moving to Paris, but no one ever talks about the teething pains; about the humble moments that are found while changing your bed sheets and simultaneously wondering where on earth Parisians go to buy a new kettle (you won’t find the usual suspects like Harvey Norman, Target or Big W here!) and what the French word for “fabric softener” is!
In anticipation of the year ahead, something that consumed most of my days and head space in the first couple of weeks was the process of settling into my apartment and doing everything possible to make it feel like home. While I’m someone who loves spending quality time with people, being outside and exploring new places, I’m also someone who yearns for a beautiful space to come home to, a place that radiates serenity, warmth and familiarity found in the little things. From the beginning though, there have been so many little things that have made the whole process that much smoother. I’m living in a lovely part of the Le Marais, surrounded by little buzzing cafes, restaurants and independent boutiques and unsuspecting courtyards lined by walls covered by trellises of greenery and blossoms. My building is also looked after by the friendliest concierge, who had kindly been collecting my mail for me while I was travelling, who welcomed me as soon as he found out that I had moved in and who even offered me fatherly reassurances on my first day of uni when I expressed that I was feeling a little nervous!
As for the apartment itself, after days spent celebrating the small victories and being incredibly grateful for the invention of Google, I can’t even describe the feeling of satisfaction and contentment that filled my heart that day when everything in my apartment came together and just “clicked”. In between the multiple trips to and from grocery stores, markets and homeware stores that peppered the first couple of weeks, I’ve learnt that I’m someone who is mildly obsessed with cleanliness, light, organisation, soft colours, wood, fresh air, well-stocked pantries/fridges and home-y touches. For me, my apartment’s become something of a safe place, a haven. A home I can look forward to coming back to and the end of a long day and a place where I can dream, read, write, cook, create and welcome others. It’s become a place I can call home, and for that, though it might seem minor to some, I’m so thankful.
(And yes, Isa, there’s definitely #waterandwifi ;) )
New faces and places
The university semester is also now in full swing! It’s felt so odd chatting to friends in Sydney about only recently starting uni while hearing them share about the trials and tribulations facing them in Week 6 or 7 of the university semester back home. My first taste of life at Sciences Po began with a week of orientation – six days curated for international exchange students that facilitated opportunities to meet each other, socialise, spend time in groups being led by local French students and also attend a series of methodology classes that introduced us to the weird and wacky world of the French obsession with structure, structure and structure. I was placed into a French-speaking/francophone group, which was great for getting back into the swing of using French in the classroom and we were fortunate enough to be taught our methodology classes by a ridiculously over-qualified Sciences Po staff member on the executive of CERI (Centre for International Studies and Research) who was patient and kind enough to guide us through our mock exposés and points d’actualité and end the week by taking us out for coffee. He also humorously explained how the grading system at Sciences Po works, by noting that while all assessments would given a mark out of twenty, it was common knowledge that “17 and 18 are reserved for the teacher, and 19 and 20 are reserved for God”!
Most of all though, it’s been such a joy to meet so many friendly faces from so many different corners of the world – from Israel, Japan, Sweden, the UK, Germany, the US, France and Canada, to other cities on the Australian shore, spending time with such a vast array of international students has been a really unique, enjoyable and valuable experience. It’s almost like being brought back to square one in a lot of these conversations insofar as realising how little you know about the culture of other countries as you share stories and experiences that shed light on what life looks like in your home country and laugh about the melting pot of exciting moments and administrative mishaps that one inevitably faces when moving away from home to study abroad.
A few of my favourite days and nights have been spent with friends – old and new – sharing in warm conversation over everything from pastries and tea, to red wine and home-cooked dinners. These spontaneous gatherings have invited me to visit a myriad of Paris’ little nooks and crannies, some of which have included Centre Pompidou, the little boutiques and streets of Le Marais, the top of Montparnasse Tower, part of a huge mosque that’s been transformed into a tea room, a little restaurant on Rue Mouffetard, Jardin du Luxembourg, Pigalle and the literary heart of Saint Germain des Pres. In a city that still feels unfamiliar in many ways, building new friendships and nurturing old ones while exploring this intricately crafted city has been a source of great joy and comfort.
And as I’ve spent days tracing the cobblestone paths of this city, I’ve become convinced that there’s something magical about the streets of Paris. Parisian streets merely happen, for lack of a better word. There’s no rhyme or reason to the myriad of narrow streets that intertwine and playfully intersect with the more organised boulevards of this city. Most of these smaller streets wander along, taking illogical turns, stopping and doubling back. They’re spontaneous and reckless, and each corner cradles a different universe in its fingertips. Lined by timeless French windows, overgrown blooms and faded white walls, one could easily get lost in the streets of Paris, but what a delightful state of bewilderment it would be!
Now that classes have well and truly started and I’ve settled into something of a weekly routine, I’m aiming to continue posting updates, stories and photos here on a weekly basis (probably with the occasional random mid-week stream-of-consciousness post thrown in the mix too) every Sunday. I’m so thankful for the way that this blog has served as a channel through which I’ve been able to keep in touch with loved ones in Sydney and to also share bits and pieces of my life with new friends here too, and for the blessing it is to be able to keep doing life with you many of you, no matter how many or few oceans stand between us!
Here are some photos of my wanderings through different parts of Paris over the past few weeks and, as always, prayer points waiting for you below :)
“My feelings are not God. God is God. My feelings do not define truth. God’s word defines truth. My feelings are echoes and responses to what my mind perceives. And sometimes – many times – my feelings are out of sync with the truth. When that happens – and it happens every day in some measure – I try not to bend the truth to justify my imperfect feelings, but rather, I plead with God: Purify my perceptions of your truth and transform my feelings so that they are in sync with the truth.” (John Piper)
Today officially marks two months since I left Sydney and as I look back, I can say with every confidence that God’s taught me so much about the importance of clinging to Him and the truth that I know to be sure, regardless of my emotional, physical, mental and external state. It’s been incredible witnessing His answer to prayers in both big ways and little ways each and every day. Thank God for how He’s so graciously protected, guided and strengthened me through this period of immense change and transition.
Thank God for the opportunities I’ve had to attend church in Paris! Ever since arriving back in Paris, I’ve been attending Trinity International Church every Sunday and revelling in again enjoying the privilege of praising God in song, hearing His word preached and marvelling at the beauty of Jesus’ saving work at the cross through communion alongside people who love and serve the same almighty Creator that I know as my Lord and Saviour. At the same time though, it’s also been hard in many ways to settle in at a new church – particularly at an international church, where people are often coming and going and where it’s been harder than one might expect to get plugged in with the long-term community here. This has been exacerbated over the last few weeks by the fact that August is infamously known as the month where most Parisians are on holiday as well, so I’ve found myself growing a little impatient and yearning for the deep relationships that I cherished and enjoyed with Christians back in Sydney. As such, please pray that God might give me patience and intentionality as I seek to get to know, love and serve people at church here. I’m also planning to visit Eglise Connexion (a French-speaking church) tomorrow afternoon, in order to consider whether attending a francophone church is something I might consider doing for the rest of my time here. Having heard much about the post-Christendom spiritual dryness that exists throughout France, I’m eager to learn how I might be able to serve the French church and people in any way I can during my time here.
In other exciting news, GBU (the IFES group that operates throughout France) Bible studies and training events will be starting up this week! I’ve heard so much about what French student ministry looks like from different Australian missionaries but also feel a strange sense of walking into the unknown as well. Please pray that God might humble, soften and prepare my heart for the semester of uni ministry ahead and give me wisdom in knowing how to love and serve my peers well.
Please pray that God might enable me to learn how to manage my time well here. After months of experiencing a weekly Sydney schedule composed of full-time uni study, part-time work, ministry commitments and generally feeling a perpetual sense of being exhausted and time poor, coming to Paris with a grand total of twelve hours of class and absolute flexibility with the remaining 156 hours of my week has been a strange shock to the system. As such, I’ve found that my time looks and feels very different here and it’s been a bit of a struggle to create a good routine, get used to doing things like grocery shopping, preparing meals and cleaning my apartment, and just generally be productive with the time at my disposal. It’s been getting easier over the last week or so, but I’d really appreciate prayer for even greater discipline and wisdom in relation to this too.
Thank you so much for your prayers, dear friends. As always, please let me know how I can be continuing to commit you to prayer as well x