It is with great sadness that I am starting my last week here in Paris. I am finishing up my final translations, having final meetings with my coworkers, and starting to pack up my things to leave this coming Saturday. Despite this, life’s pace has not slowed down even a little bit. To the contrary, I feel as if I am getting progressively busier as time passes on. For example, as a part of a scholarship project, I have been visiting each of the 20 Parisian Arrondissements to document unique features of the city. I have been everywhere, from iconic places like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, to lesser known more local attractions like a floating pool built inside a boat docked in the river Seine. While certainly tiresome for my legs, I can say that this project has allowed me to see sides of Paris that tourists rarely see, and to experience life here through as many different lenses as there are people in Paris. I find it quite fascinating to compare the differences in both my and fellow friends lives to those who I observe as I walk through Paris. Something I have come to appreciate is the existence of privilege within the study abroad industry. This was a realization that I made, as I saw parents taking their kids back home to miniscule apartments by American standards. Just the fact that I am placed in a host family is representative of a huge level of privilege in comparison to much of Paris. One cannot even host a student if they do not have a room for them, and the only people who can afford extra rooms in Paris are typically those of upper middle class and above socioeconomic status. This means that study abroad students typically live in nicer neighborhoods, which is arguably better from a safety standpoint, however it prevents students from experiencing a more genuine representation of what France is like for the average citizen. I try to constantly acknowledge this fact as well as my own privilege in order to best experience each part of the city with an open mind.
Other than my escapades outside of work, I have also been having interesting conversations with my coworkers about their lives in France vs the typical working life in the United States. One large difference that I have noted, is that the French define their lives very simply in terms of happiness. One can be considered successful here if they are happy with their life. This is in great opposition to the United States, where success is largely defined by your influence and wealth. I can honestly say that I prefer France’s approach, as it encourages society to function in what I would consider to be a healthier manner. Take a 9-5 white collar job for example, in the United States you would be expected to show up early and leave late in order climb your companies ladder and be considered traditionally successful. On the other hand, in France, the leader of my large international NGO shows up to work at 10:30 every morning because he makes a point of making his children breakfast. This allows him to have a closer relationship with his family, which makes him happy, and in turn makes him more successful by French standards.
In conclusion, the definition of success is completely different depending on where you are in the world. The phrase that I continue to come back to time and time again, is that I wish to work in order to live my life, not live my life in order to work. As such, I feel much more comfortable in French professional environments, because I do not feel extraordinary pressure to burn myself out for the sake of someone else’s perception of my success. I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn this about myself through this internship!