A year ago today , I defended my PhD.
It wasn’t easy. I was in a new country, a non English speaking country. I remember the first few days upon reaching, I was so naive and so excited. All I had known about Paris till then was the romantic Eiffel tower and the historic streets of Paris, the ever beautiful image that media always portrayed.
Paris was vastly different, in far so many ways than I could describe here. It was as if I was redefining myself and all that I had learnt the 20 odd years throughout my life were being slowly replaced or altered- and at most times, I did not even realize it.
This was probably the biggest challenge I had faced and a real one at that. I landed in a country barely knowing anyone, barely knowing the language and barely knowing what it held for me and yet I knew for the first time, I had a one – way ticket and I did not know when I would go back.
I remember not having a friend or a family beside. I remember my fears trying to break in and mingle.I recall the days I spoke so little or none at all. I remember seeing an Indian guy at my residence one day, whom I approached so gladly to speak to, only to realize he didn’t speak a word of english and barely understood me. I recall being ill not being able to go to an English doctor, lying in bed in my little studio, alone, without a voice for a week, realizing how I couldn’t run to my mother or my friends. I remember going to a bakery not knowing how to order for a bread I wanted and walked off not wanting to hold the queue. I remember drawing out experiments so people I worked with could understand what I meant, I remember mastering google translate as all the emails came only in French, yet only to understand less than half of it. I remember I missed the registration for the french language classes because even those emails were in french. I remember how French cuisine smelled so delicious and yet since i didn’t eat meat, there were mostly only boiled vegetables and French fries that often ended up on my plate.
I recall how I lost track of my friends back home, how their lives carried on and how I could never fit in right back. i remember the nights I spent on Facebook looking through the photos my family or friends had uploaded and wishing I was a part of all that. I remember loved ones falling seriously ill and me not being able to be there and feeling helpless. I remember the loss of a loved one and I remember helping others cope with it. I remember how my mom could never cook my favorite dishes and how my family did not enjoy them till I was back a week each year. I recall my first lone birthday and I also remember handling and going through all sorts of cultural shocks. I remember speaking home once a week because the timings were always so bad and calls back home were expensive. I remember speaking properly (or tamil, my mother tongue) that once a week as well. (There was no whatsapp or at least, It wasn’t at all popular during that time).
I remember a lot more… I remember the coldness of Paris, the cold nights I walked alone facing my fears, facing a different reality and pursuing my dreams…
Gradually of course, the winter got better and the coldness gradually subsided. Spring and summer did come. I wondered if it was because I had become accustomed to all this coldness but I was sure I felt so warm inside. I formed a new found family, friends I had never thought I would make. A support that led me defend my PhD, people whom I would forever be grateful for.
Some days I would lose hope but Paris always taught me life was worth it and that my dreams were worth the fight. I learnt the way things worked. My system got rewired. I went for three evening French classes apart from work. I broke my fears, I would go to a boulangerie to order my favorite baguette, I could watch a French movie without subtitles, I tried to speak french and I hung out with french mates (who later grew to become family). I grew to realize I cannot be at two places at once and grew to accept growing apart as growing up too. I learnt that the place I left wasn’t the same place I had in mind whenever I went back, places I had frequented disappeared, new buildings appeared, people had also matured and changed just like the places did. It felt strange. However, I soon realized I wasn’t the same person who left too. I had changed just like them and I realized change wasn’t a bad thing. I was finally merging in and moulding a life in Paris: One that later got filled with beautiful friends, rich memories, new hopes and aspirations and a new found strength.
And at the end of these extremely special four years, I defended my PhD. I got certified in French. I wrote my first three pages of my thesis dedication part in English, Tamil and French, respectively. I could converse my delight in French and feel appalled about the affinity I felt to it. The doctorate was a lot more than a dissertation. It was symbolic to my beautiful years of warm winters and cold summers.
Now, I have left that beautiful nest, the little home i built, that has transformed me so much and will forever be a part of me. I have moved around so much in my life and Paris will always be a part of me just like, or even a little more than, the other lands I belong to and am proud and grateful for.
I miss you Paris and I thank you for my doctorate, not just in science, not just from Pasteur.
And as for you, USA, I am eagerly waiting for your warmer days…
P.S I am so thankful and grateful for having all of you. Thank you for believing in me.
This is for all of you… and to all those people who travel away from family, friends and everything they knew… only to slowly build a new little home away from home.