Si tu voudrais te sentir chez toi (If you would like to feel at home)

First Prize in the 2022–23 Writing Contest

By Hilary Shi, ’24

“What’s study abroad like?”

It’s watching children with parents and teenagers with family and wishing your dad was sitting next to you at the gate, just like he was the last time you boarded a long-haul flight.

It’s remembering all those summers you visited your parents’ Tianjin hometown, back when you were still so small you could fall asleep on their legs with your feet propped up against the window seat.

            Now, you have grown so tall, you barely fit in Economy.


It’s watching the Chicago skyline, then watching the entire continent

            where all your friends, and family,

            and friends who are family—

            disappear beneath the clouds.


It’s scooping up the remains of your Canadian French education to figure out what the stewardess is trying to say, before she eventually gives up and asks, in English:

            “Anything to drink today?”


It’s hauling the suitcase your friend let you borrow

            the night you realized you’d have to check-in two bags (but
            only had one)

            the night your roommates all sat in the living room to help you

            the night before you left behind all certainty, routine, and


It’s spending five minutes composing a single text to the Uber driver, because you haven’t written anything in French for over a year.




It’s saying, “merci” outside of a classroom for the very first time

It’s traipsing through Latin Quarter with Jared, Michael, Zip, and Jerin

            asking questions that really mean, tell me about your life, and I’ll
            tell you about mine

            all along the Seine.




It’s having the waitress switch to English when she hears your broken French

It’s feeling disappointed when the Maître D doesn’t give you the chance to practice

It’s appreciating their effort to make your life easier

It’s responding in French anyway, because you want to get better.


And so…


It’s laughing when Zip nudges your arm playfully

            because the tour guide at Versailles made a joke about how
            Canadian French is stuck in the 17th century.


It’s yelling, “what’s that?” and hearing the stranger behind us answer: “the Sorbonne!”

It’s talking to him for the next five minutes until we part ways with two new recommendations.


It’s climbing out of a discount European airline while marveling at the Kerkyra coastline.

It’s figuring out bus routes while translating Greek

It’s walking down the steepest hill you’ve ever hiked

            with more switchbacks you’ve ever seen,

            the most brilliant sunset of your entire life,

            and some of the most positively happiest people you’ve had the
            luck to find.


It’s spotting a photo op and yelling, “I have a vision!” every few steps you go

It’s having people let you adjust their pose,

            and move them around,

            right before you count down,


“Three… two… one.”


It’s waking up to the loudest, generator-esque snores.

It’s hearing Michael politely ask the only stranger in our eight-person hostel in Prague if he could roll over; since, according to Hannah’s Google Search Results for: “how to get someone to stop snoring,” we ought to ask him to sleep on his side instead of his back.

            (The other suggestion was to make them lead a healthier

It’s befriending our weekend roommate the following morning, from whom we learn about UK rent prices and the life he left behind in Manchester.


Yet it’s—


It’s holding back tears when you send pictures to your mother, who says:

            “I’m seeing the world through you.”

It’s making a silent promise, that one day,

            you’ll be able to take her wherever she wants to go.


In the meantime,


It’s choosing where to go for lunch

It’s saying “Bonjour” to Michael and Jared after French.


It’s dining with Sorbonne students while conversing in their language entirely

It’s ordering tartare, wine, rare steak, and charcuterie.

It’s buying new shoes at Les Halles, and yogurt at Franprix

            until one day, you almost drop the groceries you were carrying

            upon realizing that responding to you in English

            is no longer something that the sales reps find necessary.


It’s laughing at Zip’s jokes in a Mediterranean café

It’s reading Montaigne with Michael on the plane

It’s walking into class the very next day

It’s taking three Civ courses, Advanced French,

            and one more crash course in befriending people who you
            otherwise would have never gotten to meet.


It’s loving and knowing people in more than one place

It’s telling your past self, you needn’t be afraid.

It’s having more stories to tell than you’d once let yourself hope

It’s realizing that there isn’t really a static notion of home.


Hilary Shi, Class of 2024, participated in the Spring 2023 European Civilization in Paris program.