Male student standing on a street in Paris

Paris is a Wellspring of Imagination and Self-Reflection

Justin Booz GS'20

...all of my previous experiences in Paris could not prepare me for the one I had at Reid Hall – a place that opened a vast world of history, thought, and cultural life to which I was, until that point, little more than a doting outsider.

I have been cultivating a romance with Paris since high school. My first love was Parisian, and she offered me my first glimpse into a city and culture that, ever since, has not been far from my mind. That is perhaps why, before starting my studies at Columbia, I spent a year there learning design, another of Paris’ fabled exports. But all of my previous experiences in Paris could not prepare me for the one I had at Reid Hall – a place that opened a vast world of history, thought, and cultural life to which I was, until that point, little more than a doting outsider. Jam-packed within the full calendar-year that I spent there are so many thousands of little things that don’t translate easily into words – meaningful friendships, acquaintances, and mentors; twilight soaked ‘dérives’ through Paris’ streets; coffees (hundreds of them) sipped slowly on a terrace. Paris is a wellspring for the imagination and self-reflection, and especially if one spends an extended period of time there, it never disappoints.

For the purposes of this short narrative, I will state, simply, that I spent the 2017-2018 Academic year Reid Hall and, at the conclusion of that intellectually and personally rigorous sojourn, I was awarded the Beesen Global Research Fellowship to conduct my own independent work in France during the Summer of 2018. I was also one of the lucky few who was able to fulfill their Art Humanities, Music Humanities, and Global Core requirements during that time. At Reid Hall, the professors of those courses were leading academics in their fields, the class sizes are small, and perhaps most importantly, were able to see, first-hand, the famed objects of our study. Finally, I had the privilege of conducting a Directed Research Project with Professor Barry Bergdoll, one of the foremost art and architecture historians in the world and an experience I will be contemplating for years to come. I took full advantage of my time on this program, was challenged at every possible turn, and reaped rewards as robust as the effort that I put in.

Despite certain fantasies I may have entertained about being fluent in a foreign language, those mirages pale in comparison to the gratification of laboring and succeeding in a tongue that is not one’s own, or the pride one feels when being complimented on how well you speak French by a total stranger (especially a Francophone one!) The academic and linguistic support I received there was also beyond compare and came at a critical time in my academic and intellectual formation – preparing me to undertake advanced studies in Architecture at Columbia and in graduate school.

Reid Hall is all of the best parts of Columbia University condensed down and transported to the most beautiful of European capitals. Though something like a paradise, it was not insulated from the complex realities that Europe and the rest of the world are now facing. We dove headlong into the places made invisible to tourists and outsiders, discussing and grappling first-hand with issues such as colonialism, racism, sexism, and classism – issues that are all too endemic there, just as they are here in the US. From the complex richness of this experience, I have a emerged a different and better student and more importantly, a more well-rounded person, ready to tackle big international issues and affect positive change in the world.

It is perhaps obvious that I cannot recommend Columbia in Paris at Reid Hall enough, nor thank the administrators, advisors, professors and countless others who made this experience possible. If you have even the slightest inclination, run with it – the adventure that awaits you is worth every cent and effort.