Tiantian Zhang

Mar 272014
 

I’m someone who appreciates the destination, oftentimes more than the journey. Sometimes the destination is Boston and the journey is a 7-hour flight from Amsterdam. Sometimes the destination is summer and the journey is 10 weeks of 200-pages-of-primary-text-reading-a-week-and-4-tests-and-3-papers. Sometimes the destination is your bed and the journey is a treacherous walk across the windy arctic tundra known as the green (these are not all hypothetical situations).

The journey is not always short and easy — it could take some mental, physical, or emotional training, and it could last for years. There may have been road signs, hitchhikers, potholes, gas stations, bed and breakfasts, sunsets, thunderstorms, etc. At times along the journey, you may have lose sight of your destination, but even in the midst of your frustration, you may have been reassured that the destination is still there and within reach.

My most recent journey was a 3-hour ride on the Dartmouth Coach from the Boston airport. I had just finished my term abroad in Paris, and I was kind of dreading this ride, to be honest. Spending three hours confined on a bus in your smelly airplane clothes with your stale chocolate croissant in your hand, your notebooks in your heavy backpack reminding you of the impending academic doom, and your sentimental playlist on shuffle is not always the most thrilling thing to be doing on a beautiful weekend afternoon. But as soon as I saw Leede Arena on my left and Baker Tower peeking out above the trees, I was relieved — I had finally reached my destination. I had finally come home.

One of the coolest things about starting college is the inevitable fact that you’re going to meet a lot of different people with various backgrounds, interests, and talents — aspects of their lives that have shaped who they are. I’ve met people with perfect ACT scores, national windsurfing champions, cellists-turned-cross-country-skiers, speech and debate stars, dedicated cyclists who have ridden from Alaska to Argentina, and aspiring DJs. And all of this diversity comes together to create a community in which you will find yourself grow and your mind expand. These are going to be your friends, your mentors, your challengers, your supporters, your econ tutors, your crushes, etc. who have spent about 18 years taking journeys different than yours but with the same destination in mind.

For the ’18s who have Dartmouth as their destination in the fall, CONGRATULATIONS! Your pre-college life is coming to an end, and the arguably most exciting 4 years are about to begin. We’re here, waiting for you at the finish line with trays of warm Foco chocolate chip cookies, decked out in flair. Just one final stretch over the river and through the woods — whether by train, by plane, by car, by foot, by bike, by boat, by bus, by wagon, by UFO (we don’t judge) — to your new big green home you go.

Mar 072014
 

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“It’s just that I feel so sad these wonderful nights. I sort of feel they’re never coming again, and I’m not really getting all I could out of them.” — This Side of Paradise // F. Scott Fitzgerald

One week left in the city of light.

A few weeks ago, I realized that I spend about 3/4 of my time in the same areas in Paris — the traditionally chic, bobo, touristy ones, unfortunately — and that I had neglected to even ride the metro through half of the city. So I furiously researched suggested walks / things to see / places to eat in the areas I hadn’t visited yet, and I came up with a long list. These areas around the periphery are more “popular” in the sense that this is where you’d find your “average Parisian” — the one that doesn’t necessarily wear a Hermes scarf, Louboutins, and chignon everyday.

Surprisingly, the more I walked, the more I realized that this is the side of Paris I truly enjoy. Even though I explored some of these parks, streets, and neighborhoods on my own, I never felt lonely. This might be extremely trite, but I felt like the real charm of the city is the one gained from discovering it through your own eyes, reflecting while wandering, and finding beauty in the less-gentrified streets. Instead of seeing the Paris that others have created for you, you create your own impressions and your own appreciation….not exactly a completely successful way to describe the feeling, but it will suffice.

I became obsessed with street art. I’ve always been very interested in it, especially after learning about artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy in high school, but I’ve never been able to really dig into the scene. Here, for one of my final papers, I’ve decided to write about art squats in Paris, which give rise to street art/graffiti. Squats are essentially abandoned / reconverted buildings that have been occupied (illegally), usually in response to high rent. Many of these locations have been converted to studio spaces for artists, thus the origin of art squats. Many of the art squats in Paris have been closed by the government, but some have gained “legal” status, so that they receive some support from the municipal government and are allowed to exist but only as work and not lodging spaces (such as 59 Rivoli). In all of these places, you will find a treasure chest of art — dancers, musicians, actors, painters, sculptors, graffiti artists, etc.

Today I ran to an abandoned warehouse-turned-lodging-and-studios in search of a graffiti exhibit, where I met 3 street artists — Maxime Aum, Codex Urbanus, and Shadee.K — who showed me around the exhibit and introduced me to the pieces of graffiti. Some of them were familiar motifs that I had seen around the city, and it was really exciting to finally meet the mysterious faces behind the characters and words that decorate Paris.

With so much to discover, so much to inspire, so much to absorb, Paris is a haven for anyone who has ever tried to create something. I wish I had a few more weeks, even a few more free hours to spend here, building relationships with interesting people from all walks of life and letting the enchantment of the city mold me into someone more reflective and appreciative.

Feb 172014
 

I usually avoid posting photos of Paris on Instagram because, though I find it to be an extremely cultural, exciting, and fascinating city, almost every photo I’ve taken has been a monochromatic dull shade. However, this all changed when we stepped off the TGV in Marseille. The vivid colors; the deep, clear waters; and the richness of the history merited numerous photos. Here, in the oldest and second largest city in France and the 2013 European capital of culture, the ancient mixes with the contemporary — the Mucem, for example, features the history of the Mediterranean area but is enclosed in a modern, beautiful, latticed cement architecture. The coexistence made for a stimulating learning experience; we stepped into another era without ever leaving this one.

Equipped with listening apparatuses (thank you Dartmouth!) that allowed us to have our beloved professor PLC feeding history into our ears, we walked around two museums, two churches, one fortress, a hospital, and the old quarter of Marseille. Learning about the structures we saw right before our eyes and felt under our feet was so, so cool — PLC would describe an architectural structure and then direct our gaze toward it. I am a more visual learner, so this was more effective and much more interesting for me than the traditional lecture.

We also sampled bouillabasse, which was a traditional fish soup; visited soap stores because Marseille is known for its olive oil soap; and took a boat tour by the Chateau d’If, the setting in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Absolutely surreal. The clear blue sky and the weather, comfortably in the high 50s, all of course contributed to the charm of this weekend.

Marseille is a very ethnically and culturally mixed city because of its proximity to other countries. This made for a very cool experience — we eavesdropped on conversations in incomprehensible languages. France, although evidently much smaller than the U.S., is still endowed with uniqueness in its cultures in every corner of the country.

Sunsets

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Feb 072014
 

In my high school French class, we read the novella Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I love slightly sentimental quotes, and this is one that stood out to me:

“Tu sais…quand on est tellement triste on aime les couchers de soleil…” (Chapter 6)
“You know…one loves the sunset when one is so sad…” (Approximate English translation)

This winter, I feel really lucky to escape the Hanover cold and study abroad in Paris on the French Foreign Study Program. With cheese tastings, weekly excursions into the city for class, free admission to most museums (lookin’ at you, Louvre), and daily access to fresh chocolate eclairs, this term has most likely been my favorite one yet. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in everything that goes on in Hanover, especially when you are surrounded by inspirational, talented, and interesting members of the Dartmouth community, but Dartmouth provides amazing study abroad opportunities that remind me that the world is bigger than the Upper Valley area. And I am eternally grateful for the supportive community I receive both on campus and abroad as a result of Dartmouth’s programs.

We’re following the French academic calendar and are currently on break, during which all of us are taking advantage of the proximity of France to other countries. 3 other students and I decided to go to Morocco for 5 days — Marrakech with the souks and Essaouira on the coast. We saw the sunset 4 days in a row. In Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains and the minaret of the Koutoubia were all lit against a background of brilliant pastel colors, and from the terrace of our hostel, we could hear the call to prayers around us. It was like being at the eye of the most exciting and beautiful tornado, with the madness of the streets below and the tranquility of the beauty of the sky.

I thought of the quote from Le Petit Prince. I guess there’s some truth to it. I felt both blessed and guilty to be alive, healthy, and safe in that moment because there are many people who don’t get to experience Marrakech, or even Morocco, or even life the way I got to on our hostel terrace or by the sea in Essaouira — whether that be due to physical disadvantages, societal constraints, financial limits, etc. And I guess that made me kind of sad.

Anyway, this year, for me, has been full of reminders to appreciate the splendors of life; to live purposefully; and to take advantage of free weekends to explore some part of the world to broaden my mind. I’m glad I got to travel with intellectually stimulating, adventurous, responsible, and fun classmates because their company made a world of a difference, and our conversations inspired me with ideas to pursue once I return to campus.

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