Walking Fast and Slow. Learning to “Profiter”
Elizabeth Winter, ’18
College of Arts and Science
It’s hard to escape a conversation in Aix-en-Provence, a small city in the south of France, without hearing the phrase “profiter de,” translating roughly to “make the most of” or “enjoy” two to three times. Whether it’s “profiter d’Aix” (enjoy Aix), or “profiter du soleil” (enjoy the sun) the Provencal people are eager to encourage one another, and any foreign visitors they encounter to savor each moment they experience.
When I arrived in Aix, after a journey involving about six different modes of transportation (I would soon learn that this way of travel is the rule not the exception), I thought my study abroad experience would be about improving my French, meeting some French people, and exploring French cuisine (read: pastries), travelling around Europe and taking in some history, art and architecture along the way.
While I knew that things like the food, clothes and architecture would be different in France, I didn’t expect to find myself so suddenly surrounded by a culture with an entirely different philosophy of living.
Even something as simple as walking down the streets of Aix made me, an always rushed D.C. native, feel like the foreigner I was. Suddenly I was surrounded by French people happily meandering and window shopping at all hours of the day, making full use of the “quart d’heure Aixois,” which insists that 15 minutes late is right on time. My new neighbors would take long lunch breaks to sit at cafes for hours with friends and pause in their paths to admire the beautiful sun.
This feeling of foreignness, I’ve decided, has been one of the most important experiences of my time studying abroad. Being the outsider made me aware of the way my culture and my personality push me to keep hurrying, always thinking about the next items on my to-do list, so worried about landing an internship or achievement that I risk missing the amazing moments occurring around me.
In Aix, opening myself to new people and experiences, I’ve learned many things, but most importantly, I’ve learned my way of living is not the only way and not necessarily the best way. I learned to slow down (just a bit) so that aimlessly wandering the town’s windy cobbled roads without knowing where I would end up or what new shop I’d stumble upon became my favorite hobby. I learned to appreciate the adventure in a 13-hour bus odyssey along the Cote d’Azur or living in a 17th century apartment with questionable heating and plumbing. I learned that taking the time to stop and chat with French students in the streets or the woman at your local boulangerie could yield meaningful friendships and, if you’re lucky, a free bag of chocolate croissants.
It’s a cliché, but I think at Vanderbilt we need to make use of the incredible variety of opportunities to learn and grow, but we also need to “profiter” as the French do and stop every so often to make sure that we enjoy and really live each moment. We are surrounded every day by amazing people with so many unique stories and perspectives to share, if we slow down and listen. Spend some more time chatting with friends after dinner or strike up a conversation with someone on the lawn.
Time at Vanderbilt, and particularly on Commons, flies by, so don’t be afraid to “profiter.” Profiter de Nashville, profiter de Vanderbilt and profiter de one another.