Striking the Right Balance When Abroad


Even in Paris, there are some days that are a bit tougher than others. (Courtesy of Emma Lipkind for The Fordham Ram)

As much as I wanted my legs to move faster, my backpack, beating against my shoulders and back with every step, slowed me down. I knew there was no universe in which I could run fast enough to get on that train, but I also couldn’t imagine a universe in which I actually missed the train. 

I kept running, trying to open every door, consistently without luck. My friend, Shalra, trailed directly behind and I could feel her desperately hoping that I somehow grew wings and could get into the last car before it shut. The SNCF employee guarding the last door was in my field of view, maybe 60 feet ahead. They watched me wave my arms and scream, “s’il vous plaît, s’il vous plaît!” as one last person boarded the train.

Still on the move, running out of breath but filled with dread, we watched the train slip away. It moved slowly out of the station, with all but two passengers onboard. 

In retrospect, missing a train to Italy sounds like a curse within a huge blessing. But the feeling of grave error when you know something was entirely within your control is so humbling yet devastating at the same time.

And to clarify, we weren’t late. In fact, I arrived at the station 30 minutes before departure, only to find out our train to Milan would be 30 minutes late. High on excitement for the adventure ahead, Shalra and I decided to explore Paris’ Gare de Lyon — a station with endless stores and boulangeries — to kill time. This is, as one could expect, where we went incredibly wrong. We must have been so excited that we didn’t actually bother to check the time during our silly little moment of exploration. 

Reflecting on this moment a week later, it wasn’t that big of a deal. We were safe, we didn’t have to pay extra for changing our ticket (thank you Eurail pass and the kind, but exasperated, SNCF employees), and we still ended up in Milan, albeit with one less day.

The reason missing the train weighed on me so heavily was the feeling of helplessness and failure. What’s worse is that this has become a recurring theme in the last week or so, and I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps the honeymoon period is over and the wave I was riding is now crashing. I’m starting to feel pressure from every possible aspect of my life: make the most of my time in Europe, but still enjoy Paris; get good grades, but don’t spend too much time studying; see my friends, but recharge my social battery; go out, but wake up early to get things done; consider post-grad options, but don’t worry about it right now. It has all become too much to handle, especially being away from my support system back home.

This isn’t at all to say that I’m no longer enjoying Paris. It’s actually the opposite. I’m starting to feel more and more confident and comfortable here, navigating my way without Apple maps and recommending neighborhood hole-in-the-walls to my friends. It’s almost as if I’ve gotten too comfortable and the vacation-like feeling of being away from home has faded, leaving me with the feeling of my normal routine back home. A few bad moments in my day-to-day life are to be expected, but it’s especially frustrating here where I’m trying to squeeze a lifetime of living in Paris into just four months.

I’m now planning my next adventure: a multi-city trip relying solely on trains. It has honestly been worse than the Milan fiasco, if you’ll believe it, and we haven’t even left yet. Turns out traveling to five cities in 11 days isn’t something you can do last minute. But despite it all, I am convinced that seeing something new and the thrill of traveling will reignite that spark I felt just a few weeks ago.

To end on a bit of a lighter note, I’d love to recap some highlights of the last two weeks. Milan was wonderful in the end, and we even got to spend a day in the gorgeous Lake Como, which was somehow still ridden with tourists in the middle of October. I visited the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée Gustave Moreau, both enriching yet incredibly different from each other. I spent some time in Montmartre, a 15-minute walk away from me entirely uphill (more like 30 if you count the rest periods). I have sat in probably every single Prêt-a-manger in Paris thanks to my monthly subscription. And the coolest thing I’ve done recently is watch the most insane contemporary dance show with my program, called “Gloria.” I can’t describe it. You really just had to be there (and take my word for it).

As always, I’m itching to know what the next few weeks have in store for me. Once I find out, you guys will be the first to know.