By Shauna McHugh
I’m writing this article from my tiny apartment in Paris, with half packed suitcases scattered around me. In just a few days, I’ll haul said cases to the airport, thus ending one of the best summers of my life.
I’m finally returning home to Ireland, after four months of working in the literal happiest place on Earth – Disneyland Paris. While I can confirm that it’s impossible to not feel the joy as a guest at Disney, working there had its up and downs. While the general magical atmosphere of the park had an impact, my happiness was due in large amount to my university, miles and miles away back in Galway. Believe it or not, after three years of studying in NUIG, I made one of my closest friends from the college while we were both worlds away from the campus, in beautiful Paris.
I met this friend halfway through my summer, while I was working full time as a waitress in Disneyland’s Annette’s Diner. Two months had passed, during which I had made my best effort to integrate with the French, and while they were all lovely, I was terribly homesick, and missed the ease of conversation when befriending new people through English.
Then suddenly, in late June, it all changed. I had noticed a new girl working at the restaurant. With a nametag that read ‘Xara’, I assumed she was foreign, and so wrote her off as yet another co-worker that I would eventually have to stutter through awkward French small talk with, and thought nothing more of it.
By a stroke of pure luck, it was another colleague who pulled me over to her one day, and said “This is the other Irish girl”. ‘Other?’, I thought. Could there really be more of us, confused English speakers who were navigating the big city of Paris and trying not to die in the 40 degree heat?
And so it was that Xara Louise and I began talking, and minutes into our first conversation, I could already feel the homesickness dissipating. Upon discovering that we were both NUIG students, we quickly bonded over all the crazy things we missed about Galway.
I bemoaned the absence of Boojum in my Parisian life, she missed the bants from her regular nights out at the Roisín Dubh. We both mourned the fact that going on the sesh seemed to be impossible in France, where we all sophisticatedly sipped on wine over dinner and returned home at a sensible hour.
Over the next few weeks, we became inseparable. We took on all the rollercoasters of Disney, even the ones she was scared of (I was courage personified throughout, I swear), we found our new favourite places to eat in Paris, and watched the fireworks together during the French national holiday.
Xara’s contract finished before mine, and it was a sad day when we parted and she left Paris. We have stayed in touch since, however, and I’m already looking forward to catching up with her once we’re both back in Galway.
While working in Paris was a wonderful experience, it was also lonely and overwhelming at times. To have met someone who understood exactly what that was like was a blessing. I am so thankful for the support network that being a student at NUIG has provided. This experience has taught me that you never know when the wider community that NUIG connects us to may come in need. I’m so lucky that Xara and I bonded over shared memories of NUIG, as she made my summer in Paris an unforgettable experience. (And we can always wait until we’re back home to have a decent sesh).