February 15th was the day on the calendar in which I had planned to go to France for my spring semester exchange. I attend ESSEC School of Business during my stay and currently reside in a small town in Cergy. Cergy is northwest of Paris by at least 50 minutes and you can take the train to go to Paris very easily.

Upon arrival in France, there were lots of quirks and differences that I didn’t account for in my semester exchange. When landing in the CDG Paris airport, I was taken aback by the sheer size of the airport but also how confusing it was given that lots of shops and services were closed due to COVID. I felt lost and anxious because I had a checklist of things I needed to accomplish while I was at the airport. I needed a sim card for reliable internet service, euros to be exchanged from my American dollars, a transportation pass, and finally a taxi to go to my apartment. After wandering around in a large and busy airport, I finally found all my necessities in one place. I was able to leave the airport and find a taxi to get home smoothly.

I arrive in my residence to an empty apartment with no food and welcomed with a special move-in kit that I ordered from the university which had plates, pots, and cups to make my transition in the residence much easier. For the first time in a long time, I had a blank slate to start my semester and this time it was in a completely new environment.

The city of Cergy isn’t very glamourous, to be quite honest, it’s basically College Station but with very few restaurants to go to. In the city center are the universities, the mall, and the metro station to get to downtown Paris. It is the most lively part of Cergy and where most people get their groceries done. Cergy is mainly filled with working-class people who commute to Paris to work and come back in the evening. It’s not a special place, but it is a home for many families.

Currently, COVID-19 in France is somewhat strict but there is a lot to look forward to. Depending on the size of the shop or public space, many places are still open for the public. You might not be able to go to the Louvre, but there are many small art galleries and small art installations you can visit. While the strict rules of France may seem a damper to larger tourist sites, it allows for smaller businesses to shine and be a resource to the public who wish to get a sliver of normalcy in their lives.

My classes do not start until March 1st, but I am excited to see what is ahead of me. Whether it’s going to meet new people or visiting hole-in-the-wall places in Paris, the opportunity is wide open.