We woke up early this morning, bid our hotel and Berlin farewell, and took two public buses to the airport for the last leg of our study abroad in Paris. After going through a very lenient baggage check and equally thorough security check, many of us spent the next several hours waiting to board the plane by preparing for our upcoming EU-US summit simulation and composing our reflections on our site visits in Brussels and The Hague to the Human Rights Watch office and International Criminal Court, respectively. Something I’ve really appreciated over the course of this summer is not only the content of our site visits and the places we travel, but how the arrangment of both is structured in a way builds upon what we’ve already learned with more complex experiential learning. One of the core components of the foundation of the European Union was a declaration by Robert Schuman announcing that France and Germany would unify the core parts of their economies, so concluding our program and study of the EU in the hearts of the capital cities of both countries seems natural and means significantly more than if we started in either city back in May.

Paris upon arrival was as breathtaking, as was to be expected. We departed the airport on the RER line into the city, transferred to a connecting metro line, and walked the remainder of the distance to Hotel Bonaparte. The hotel is quaint and within walking distance of the Seine, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and other Parisian icons, and I’m sure we will take advantage of our location for sightseeing throughout the week. After spending enough time at the hotel to freshen up following our day of traveling, we set out for our dinner cruise along the Seine to celebrate Bastille Day. What an experience! We were joined by American diplomat and Georgia Tech alumnus Johnny Jones for our cruise and shared the small boat with a group of American families.

Waiting to board our dinner cruise on the bank of the Seine

Our courses included a plate of delicious hors d’œuvres, chicken and pasta, and an assortment of desserts. The view of Paris on either side of the river while we were dining were no less rich and splendid. From our tables we watched the boat glide past the Assemblèe nationale, the Concergerie, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Eiffel Tower. I doubt we could have asked for a better introduction to the cultural treasures of city.

The Assemblee Nationale lit in patriotic colors

Our view of the Alexander Bridge

After we finished our meal, we sat outside on the deck and prepared to watch the fireworks, and it was then that the City of Light lived up to its nickname. It’s difficult to articulate in words how magnificent it was to be on the Seine looking at the Eiffel Tower sparkle with lights and explosions of color against a backdrop of more fireworks-and on France’s National Day, no less! French citizens and tourists alike lined both sides of the Seine and covered bridges, waving flags and enjoying the camaraderie of celebrating together. There was a strong sense of communal joy and excitement, and it was electrifying. I was reminded of all the times I watched the A Capitol Fourth production in Washington DC on the Fourth of July with my family, and I imagine the energy must be the same. I doubt any of us will forget the experience we shared tonight for years to come, and it was the perfect way to begin our final week of the program in Paris.