When I think of Paris, I think of sitting at a kitchen table in an apartment tucked away in the corner of a neighborhood near the Arc de Triomphe. I’m slowly sipping a mug of sleepytime time as Andrea and her aunt converse in Romanian. I appreciate the language as if it were a painting through which I can only convey the artist’s purpose, without comprehending the entire story. Recognizing my lack of understanding, Andrea switches to English to explain their conversation. We continue to talk in English, and now it is her aunt who is left listening to a foreign conversation. She watches us as if the sounds coming from our mouths will rearrange into words familiar to her: Romanian and French. Andrea can speak Romanian but not French, while I can speak only French and English. I turn to Andrea’s aunt to ask her a question in French, bringing her back into the conversation while Andrea is left watching. Together, we have no common language, but we have somehow found a conversational balance around this table in a city known for its history, art and passion.

So continued one of my favorite evenings in Paris. My second visit to Paris showed me the true grandeur of the city. Yes, the Tour Eiffel and Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris took my breath away when I first saw them. And I was thrilled to see la Jaconde (the Mona Lisa) in person and visit as many patisseries as possible. However, architecture and food cannot represent the entirety of Paris. The typical tourism destinations do not portray one of the most important parts of Paris: its people.

The city has inspired some of the most incredible writers, artists, scientists, and so many other professions for hundreds of years. It is not the air in Paris that inspires, but the Parisians themselves. The hardworking Parisians earn their place in the city by continuing to build a thriving scene of culture and life at every street corner—from the markets to the students to the merry-go-rounds that seem to appear on every corner. Tourism brands the French as uninviting and disinterested, but I would argue that the Parisians do not live in Paris simply welcome tourists to their city. Look at history to determine the true character of Paris and its inhabitants. The Parisians are proud people who fight for what they believe. It is the Parisians who ensure Paris remains true to itself and thus, Parisians truly make Paris, well, Paris.

During my first visit to Paris, it took a moment to become accustomed to seeing so many armed guards walking around the major tourism areas. This was not a sight I saw frequently in America. After a few days in Paris, I realized the importance of these guards and felt great appreciation for them. These men and women were put in place by the city and the government to ensure the safety of the Parisians and the city’s guests. I was thankful for their service throughout the duration of my trip.

I think that is why I felt so shocked as I read the news pouring out of the City of Lights yesterday. Paris has harbored a special place in my heart since high school, and I think that many people throughout the world feel similarly. After several visits in the past few years, I could never imagine the horrors experienced by Parisians (and the French people) in the past few days. Who could ever imagine this kind of terror? My heart aches for the people of Paris, the people of France. There are not words to describe such terrible acts, so I instead wanted to share my portrait of Paris. It is important to remember why we must continue to care about the well-being of all people throughout the world whether they live in Paris, Beirut, Japan or anywhere else under threat of disaster.

So I would like to finish this dedication to Paris with a request. Look at this wall. It can be found in the small courtyard nestled in the heart of Paris. It was slightly difficult to find, but it was worth the journey to see “I love you” written in hundreds of languages. Think about how many ways the world has to say “I love you” around the world and then commit to making more actions of love for all those you love and even those you don’t love. If we can commit more actions of love than hate, I believe we can drown out senseless horrors and show that we are made for more. We are made to love and in that, we have nothing to fear.

“Actions speak louder than words.”

I can’t tell you who said this phrase nor when it was said nor in what context. I’m sure Google would tell me if I asked, but I would rather talk about what I do know. I know these words to be absolute truth. Let me prove it.

Who are the most influential people in our world currently? Who impacts your life everyday even though you’ve never met them?

The five different Time 100 covers for 2013.

According to Time Magazine, the top 100 people of our time include leaders such as Barack Obama and Pope Francis, artists like Jennifer Lawrence and Steven Spielberg, icons including Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé, pioneers such as Don Yeomans and Perry Chen,  and titans like Sheryl Sandberg and Lebron James.

I guarantee you know almost all of the people I just listed. And if you don’t, now is the time to use Google because you’ll discover that these people are indeed affecting your life everyday, even though you didn’t know they existed.

Why do these people matter?

Beyoncé performing her song Single Ladies at the Super Bowl in February 2013.

These people along with everyone else on Time Magazine’s list and everyone you think are the most influential people in the world do things. For example, Beyoncé grew up in Houston, the daughter of a salesman and a hairdresser. At age seven, she sang at her school’s talent show and won, beating students twice her age. After this, she pursued music in every shape and form by attending music grade schools, competing in more talent shows and auditioning for singing roles. Today, Beyoncé is known for what she has accomplished as a result of these actions. Beyoncé is known for her songs, her acting in Dreamgirls,  her performance at the Super Bowl, etc. Beyoncé did not sit around at home thinking about how much she enjoyed music. She performed as often as she could and worked hard to become the best musician she could be. Now, she’s admired as one of the greatest icons of our time.

In my opinion, we sit around and think too much in school. Yes, thinking is a critical action and extremely important. But that does not change the fact that a thought only exists in your head and affects no one but yourself. Writings and discussions have more influence, but they are still a far cry away from doing anything. For every hour spent in lecture, an undergraduate is expected to spend three hours outside class working on knowing the material. The methods of doing this consist of staring at notes/PowerPoints/book pages, homework whether it be problems or essays, and other ways to internalize knowledge. There is typically no practical use or application outside of a two-dimensional piece of paper for a full time student until a student has an internship or job.

Within chemical engineering, the closest to hands-on applications a second year student comes is the optimization of a plant process. I don’t consider this to be a proper application of theory because it is a theoretical situation. Students are not able to actually run their design project at a plant so it is nothing more than a project. A plant set-up would be impossible, but there must be a way to bring these applications to student to gain more practical experience. This is why I’m an advocate of project-based learning, despite the difficulties it can impose. Project-based learning is doing.

French author Simone Weil’s book The Need for Roots.

I’m not going to criticize honors courses. I love my honors classes. I do have a suggestion to offer to honors courses though. These classes capitalize on higher thinking, but many do not use the idea of action enough in conjunction with thoughts and words. Some do, for instance when I volunteered to receive honors credit freshman year, but this is not the norm unfortunately. Last semester, I took a wonderful course titled French Intellectual Thinking. Yes, thinking was even in the title. We spent a lovely hour and half twice a week talking about French writers’ works all semester. What if we had taken their writings an actually lived them though? For example, we read parts of Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots where she listed the “needs of the soul” which included responsibility, truth, freedom of opinion, etc. Instead of discussing the importance of these, what if we students had made the effort to live a day without truth or without responsibility? At first it might be fun, but the end of the day, we would realize why it’s a need of the soul.

Barack Obama is known because he is the President of the United States, but he did not get there without campaigning and he wouldn’t be doing his job correctly if he wasn’t constantly acting as the president. He’s meeting world leaders, signing legislation, proposing his own solutions for problems in the US, etc. Ultimately, this translates well to undergraduate students. We wouldn’t be students without studying and homework. However, employers are increasingly looking at extracurricular involvement because these activities are opportunities where we, as students, can actually do something. Personally, I can’t imagine my life without student organizations. So, stop sitting around and thinking; start doing. That is what needs to be happening more and more in students’ lives, adults’ lives, everyone’s lives.

So, do you have an idea? A dream? A thought? Something you keep putting off until tomorrow for when it’s the right time?

Stop waiting. Share your idea, whether you talk about it or write about it. But don’t stop there. After sharing it, do not settle.

Start doing.

 

 

Personal note: I’m working on a follow-up to last week’s post, but it’s not ready yet. I sincerely apologize. I’ll also be on hiatus until June. For the next week, I’ll be in Scotland and Ireland and then I will be returning to the US for the first time since January. See you then! xx

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