I’ve spent most of my life living in a big city of over 20 million people in Nigeria. To say the least, I’ve only ever known life to be fast-paced and bustling. A five-minute walk sounded like my worst nightmare, and was frankly something I never did. I never slowed down, never willingly sat outside, and never appreciated nature.
All of that changed when I spent my third year of undergrad in a little-known French town called Reims. I entered a peaceful world of unfamiliar calmness that I never knew I needed. Reims is a diverse city with three universities. It was like no other city I have been to. The old cobble-stoned streets were surrounded by gorgeous greenery and flowers. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims, which was the former place of coronation of the kings of France, is a UNESCO world heritage site that towers over the city and shines when the sun hits it.
My daily life changed completely from what it was here at UTM. In Reims, I walked 20 minutes to school past cathedrals, tiny apartments, and a multitude of bakeries. I woke up to the smell of berries being harvested by the Champagne houses that populated the city. The crazy thing was, out of all the different changes I was expecting, I never thought the slowing down of pace would be what resonated with me the most.
I changed from a nature hater to a girl that takes hikes and morning walks to the park. I stopped drinking soda, shunning vegetables, and bingeing chocolate. I never in my life thought I would make these kinds of changes. All these little changes I hardly noticed at the time summed up to a re-imagination of self.
Another surprising change was a new-found appreciation for learning. The students of Sciencespo were so exceptionally passionate about education, it truly inspired me to fall back in love with acquiring knowledge. I remembered how much I loved to read and learn about obscure things happening across the world.
I thought my only options in life were to change into a whole new person or stay exactly the same, but Reims made me realize a third option: becoming an improved version of myself.
Aside from this very cliché self-discovery (I know, I know), the greatest gift this year-long experience gave me was the beautiful friendships I made. Travelling to Scandinavia together and staying up all night having cooking marathons really cemented bonds that feel life changing. I still talk to the friends I made there every day, which is something I never thought would happen. I never thought I’d be that girl bursting into tears in the middle of a train station as she says goodbye.
I’m truly grateful to France for reminding me that I’m always changing and for pushing me to evolve into parts previously unknown or forgotten. And of course, for reminding me to never say never.
Written by: Anjeola Salami