By Layla Clarkson, Exchange to Sciences Po Paris, France
If I was in Vancouver and my best friend asked me if I wanted to fly to Edmonton, Alberta for a weekend trip, I would have questioned her sanity. And yet when my new friend in Paris suggested we go to Porto, Portugal for the weekend, a similar distance apart as Vancouver to Edmonton, I immediately told her to, “Sign me up, buttercup.”
Perhaps I was so inclined to go to Porto because it is a beautiful city entirely different from Paris, and because the flights were reasonably priced too. But the root of my decision to go had to do with the little bit of adventure that develops inside every exchange student. And living in Europe there is an expectation to liberate this sense of adventure by travelling often.
I went to Porto with seven other girls from Sciences Po, and it marked my first hostel experience. The hostel had hardwood floors, a modern rooftop terrace and a view overlooking the city. I was told not to expect all hostels to be this gorgeous, but for now I am very comfortable envisioning that this is the way they are. For a little trip we covered a lot of ground; city exploring, market browsing, Port tasting, pastry eating, beach relaxing, and so on. The area where we stayed in was old, with rusty orange roofs and churches from a different lifetime ago. The city was not at all ritzy like what I’ve become accustomed to in Paris–it had its own character that might be described as colorful and laidback.
One of the things I liked the most about the city was the friendliness of the locals who offered us directions when we were lost and wanted to socialize. At night, the young people of the area get together in a square before going out, and we joined them. In this meeting spot, we found our waiter from lunch and we got to know our tour guide from earlier in the day as well. In contrast, bonding with the Parisian locals is difficult; many are sheltered and protective of the groups they already have.
When the trip was over I went straight from the airport to my French test at school… big backpack, airplane clothes and all (a fashion faux pas at stylish Sciences Po). I didn’t do that well on the test, which was a wakeup call I needed. That little adventure inside us exchange students has led me to focus less on my classes, even though I really enjoy them. I am trying now to be more on top of my studies, while still keeping my sense of adventure. Everything is one lesson at a time, c’est la vie after all.