Finding Hope Through Concerts and Conversations


Being abroad can feel isolating, so it’s important to find inspiration. (Courtesy of Emma Lipkind)

When I sat down next to Nadia, I was just looking for a spot to eat my fancy artisanal food from one of the many food trucks nearby. I was just about to take a bite when she asked me a question. I replied, mouth half-full, “quoi?” I was simultaneously unprepared and confused that this stranger was speaking to me at a random French music festival. 

When we started chatting, I noticed that she was much younger than I originally thought, probably somewhere in her mid-20s. She had hair not unlike mine: wispy, curly, short and fairly untamed. As I stumbled through the French youth lingo I picked up in the last few weeks, I could tell by her puzzled look that she wasn’t sure what my deal was. To save her the time, I told her I was from America, studying abroad for the semester and that I frankly didn’t like Paris as much as she did. Nadia said she was “en amoureuse” with Paris, having come here from Morocco where she lived up until a few years ago. 

Seeing Nadia’s face light up talking about Paris gave me the hope I didn’t know I needed. 

Since my last article I have settled in a bit more, but with that has come a deeper understanding of the vast inconveniences of this seemingly lovely city. I’ve been complaining to anyone who will listen about the lack of air conditioning and public restrooms, the deeply flawed metro system and mostly the constant bodily odors from everyone (they haunt my senses). As it has been a struggle to adapt, I have lost that wonder that drew me here in the first place. After my little talk with Nadia, I felt like I had unlocked a new perspective.

The reason I was at this festival was to see my favorite French artist, Emma Peters. I bought tickets for a measly 30 euros just the week before, feeling like this concert would be the moment of serendipity I had been craving. 

I arrived at Parc de la Villette in Paris’ 19th arrondissement three hours before Peters’ set completely by accident. In fact, I thought I was going to be late because I misunderstood the timing. Initially disappointed by the fact that I had to entertain myself for three hours, I realized this was the relaxing alone time I desperately needed.

What I discovered in my time meandering the grounds and eavesdropping on peoples’ conversations is that if there is one thing the French do right, it’s throw a music festival. The park was seemingly never-ending, allowing for tons of access without the chaotic crowds. It was a gorgeous day, with a slight breeze and even more sunshine to balance it out. People sat, lied and hugged each other on the grass. Then everyone swayed to the music: no phones, no frills —  just dancing and singing. 

Seeing Emma Peters was truly the cherry on top of this unexpectedly revealing and magical day. Standing atop a small stage with just an acoustic guitar in hand, she sang so clearly and effortlessly that I kept forgetting it was live and not blasting in my airpods like usual. As I sang along to one of her songs, “C’est bon,” I felt tears well up in my eyes. I quickly blinked them away, of course, as I have to maintain my stoic quasi-French front, but that feeling was everything. 

I didn’t expect any of this to happen. In fact, I was sort of worried it was going to be a horrible experience. Going alone to a concert in a place you’ve never been to before where you only understand about 40% (if that) of the language … What could go wrong? But Nadia, Emma Peters and everything leading up to them made me realize that I need to stay patient and persistent on this journey.

I recently told a friend that being here is just a huge test of patience — something that does not come easy for me. I said it as a passing comment at the time, but I keep coming back to that thought. I wanted to feel settled on day one, but it’s pretty obvious that was never going to be the case. I am still in the early stages of my journey here, but I’m happy to report that I have found some footing. Not much, but it’s enough for now. After all, looking back on the clumsy moments where I completely misunderstood what someone said or was late to class because I went to a totally different location is pretty funny. It’s moments like those coupled with the ones like the festival that make for that once-in-a-lifetime experience I think Barry was referencing (see my last article if you’re not familiar with Barry).

Here are some other noteworthy moments that have definitely colored my time here so far: seeing the Eiffel Tower glitter at midnight and getting a warm crepe shortly after, spending hours gossiping along the Seine with a new friend, exploring nightlife, thrifting in neighborhoods like the Marais, seeing my first movie in a French theater, starting classes at the Sorbonne (please pray for me) and going to Versailles but not actually going inside the palace, just wandering around the area.

As my first month here creeps up, I feel like I’ve already lived 10 different lives in Paris alone. I can’t wait to see who else I become in the rest of the time I have here, but I hope she’s cool and learns more French.