Editor’s note: Cassi Niedziela graduated as the valedictorian of the Glen Rose High School Class of 2017. She is attending New York University majoring in global public health and sociology. This is her final contribution as a guest columnist for the Glen Rose Reporter. She can be reached at cassiniedziela@gmail.com.

Bonjour, tout le monde! I had the incredible opportunity this summer to study abroad in Paris, France for seven weeks with my university, New York University!

My class was located in between La Sorbonne and Notre Dame, in the Latin Quarter of Paris, and my dorm was a 25-minute bus ride away.

An important theme of my trip can be embodied in the French word “depaysement,” which has no direct English translation, but essentially describes the oddly fascinating feeling of being in a place other than your home country. I think this is a beautiful word that captures such an important aspect of life that many people seem to disregard.

I flew to Paris by myself the day before I was allowed to check into my dorm room because I wanted to have time to adjust to a new culture and time zone before diving right into my very intensive French class.

With only my suitcase, a cell phone that didn’t work, and a very basic understanding of the French language, my first 36 hours in Paris were absolutely terrible. I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t speak French well enough to be able to communicate my situation to the locals.

Most people in Paris do speak at least a little bit of English, but I was determined to speak French as much as possible.

The next day, I moved into my dorm and started to grow more accustomed to French culture. By the end of my trip, I enjoyed daily espresso shots and croissants, and I have a newfound appreciation for soccer.

It was such a fun experience to be able to watch the World Cup matches while being in France because the entire country was unified when cheering on the French team. After each victory by “Les Bleus,” who later went on to win the tournament, the streets of Paris erupted in lively celebrations complete with firecrackers, dancing, and lots and lots of cheering.

While in Paris, I visited basically all of the tourist attractions and museums, and I met many interesting people! Some of my favorite sites included Notre Dame, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Palace of Versailles, both houses of the French legislative branch (the National Assembly and the Senate) and of course the Eiffel Tower. I also had my fair share of bread and cheese while staying in the City of Lights.

I also found it very interesting to talk to local Parisians about their thoughts on American politics and culture. I will spare you the details, but I think it is of the utmost importance to both be aware of how the global community views the leadership of the United States right now, and to critically address these issues.

On a lighter note, the French people I met found the large portion sizes and eccentric television series in America to be utterly fascinating. “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother” were two shows I found to be very popular!

Being able to spend seven weeks in a place I have always dreamed about was absolutely incredible. I worked extremely hard for this opportunity, received a scholarship, and lost many hours of sleep studying so I would be ready for my class, but it was without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life!

It is so important to step out of your comfort zone and place yourself in situations that may be uncomfortable, because that is when people really grow as individuals. Before coming to France, I was very nervous to be in a foreign country with no one I knew, but I learned so much about the French language and culture just from being immersed in the environment, and I made many useful contacts for the future!

I stepped out of my comfort zone by moving to New York by myself, and I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone by flying to France all alone.

These things haven’t been easy, and they certainly have not been handed to me, but I am very happy with the choices I have made for myself and my future.

I have always worked endlessly until I made my dreams into realities, and I encourage everyone to do the same. It is not a matter of luck, but a combination of hard work and determination that have brought me to these opportunities.

This will be my last column for the Glen Rose Reporter for the time being, but I am thankful for the chance to chronicle my first year at my university for this newspaper.

I hope you have enjoyed hearing about my adventures (and sometimes misadventures,) and, as always, you can email me for more details!

Au revoir, et à bientôt!