"I have always gone against the grain, I've always picked the harder route. And it feels like studying abroad brought on all these challenges that I wouldn't have had to go through if I just chose the easy route... I gained so much knowledge, so much patience, so much wisdom and experiences that I wouldn't trade." (Gabrielle, Episode 103)
(Note: I'm glad that I've tried to get back in a groove working on this show this summer, especially given my unexpectedly long hiatus. But the groove... hasn't been grooving. Marlisa, Abbi, and now Gabrielle have been lovely, but there's some stuff going on with me, so if it takes a lot longer than a month for the next episode of Young, Gifted and Abroad to come out... that's why.)
It's the 19th again, which means it's time for a brand new episode of Young, Gifted and Abroad! This month's guest is Gabrielle LaRochelle, a journalist whom I happened to discover on Twitter last year. A tweet thread of hers circulated my way, announcing that she and her best friend Ninoshkka would be moving to Paris, France together because they'd both gained admission to grad school there. Gabrielle would be pursuing a master's degree in history and civilization, and had also received a full-tuition scholarship. I was intrigued, so I kept her in mind for when my hiatus was over, and I invited her to be a guest on the podcast this summer to discuss how her Paris journey was going. (I later learned that Gabrielle was already back in the States, because she's someone who doesn't waste time. More on that later.) I was encouraged by how enthusiastically she accepted my invitation, and after initially being scheduled to do this interview in mid-August and then rescheduling due to COVID (Gabrielle's doing much better now), we were able to record at the beginning of this month.
For Gabrielle, who hails from the DMV area, moving to Paris for grad school wasn't her first time abroad, or even her first time in Paris. She not only comes from a culturally diverse family—her dad is Black and Spanish, her mom is Haitian—but her parents have also always encouraged her to seek out new experiences. They laid the foundation for this by taking young Gabrielle to Spain to visit family, and to other locales including Mexico and the Dominican Republic. As Gabrielle got older she dreamed of earning a degree abroad, but her mom couldn't handle the thought of Gabrielle being so far away while still so young. So instead, she moved to New York City to attend Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, which is a division of The New School. While in undergrad, she went to Paris for her 21st birthday, and she also studied abroad in Indonesia (summer 2018, through SIT Study Abroad) and Brazil (summer 2019, through The New School).
In Indonesia, Gabrielle learned about biodiversity and conservation by conducting scientific research and interviewing farmers in Bali and Borneo. In Brazil, in collaboration with the studio that produced the 2002 favela epic City of God, Gabrielle did documentary research on how then-President Bolsanaro's policies were affecting Brazilian students as well as Black and Brown sex workers in Rio de Janeiro. While both of those study abroad programs were centered around fascinating projects and fully paid for by scholarships, Gabrielle was also the only Black girl (or one of few Black students) in her cohort for both trips. And unfortunately, the way certain peers, staff, and even strangers treated her due to her appearance ranged from carelessness and dismissiveness to targeted harm. The Brazil trip was particularly egregious ("very traumatizing"), and Gabrielle was so vocal with her concerns about how staff were behaving that The New School no longer offers that program. Any trace of the documentary project and the work that Gabrielle and her peers put into it has also been scrapped. Gabrielle has since done her best to heal from the painful and isolating aspects of those trips, and might be open to visiting Brazil again in a few years. Conversely, she would love to live or even retire in Indonesia, which she remembers more fondly than Brazil.
Though Gabrielle was interested in becoming a socioanthropologist when she entered undergrad, she switched to journalism because it seemed less "predatory" than anthropology while still allowing her to research other cultures and interact with various kinds of people. Plus the guidance of her dad, who was a music journalist for quite a while, helped the concept of interviewing people feel like second nature to her. She graduated Lang in 2020 with a degree in journalism & design and global studies, with a minor in race and ethnicity. After moving back home for a while, she began researching affordable options for pursuing a master's degree abroad and found the history and civilization program at Université Paris Cité. Gabrielle applied to both the university and the full-tuition Graduate Scholars in France scholarship through Campus France, a French agency and online resource that assists foreign students pursuing higher education or research in France. Together with her friend Ninoshkka, she moved to Paris in August 2022.
Gabrielle had thought herself independent as a college student in New York, but Paris was her first experience truly having to find an apartment and pay for rent, utilities, and transportation on her own. All of this on top of navigating life in France not as a tourist, but as an immigrant on a student visa who was not fluent in French. She was very blunt with me when discussing the frustrations of French bureaucracy and (lack of) responsiveness that made completing tasks, getting answers, and even tracking her academic progress difficult. "What I've learned from living in France is a lot of patience, a lot of patience, 'cause it's not on your time. If you ever step foot in France, you just gotta realize nothing's on your time. It's on their time, it's when they wanna do it." Additionally, the burden of being outspoken and one of few Black girls resurfaced anew in her graduate courses in France, where Gabrielle unflinchingly challenged her white professors' and classmates' problematic views on other cultures and the right to portray those cultures' stories. There was a conversation about Quentin Tarantino and whether white people should be telling Black stories that got particularly heated.
Not about fighting alone
Fortunately, however, although her first six months in Paris had her struggling the most, Gabrielle also grew immensely as a person, which helped her to feel less like a fish out of water and more comfortable with what Paris had to offer during her last six months there. As a whole, not everything was a fight, or about fighting alone. Just like in Indonesia and Brazil, Gabrielle was able to find community with the individuals who were in her corner. At least one of her classmates spoke up alongside her, she made French and francophone friends who helped make day-to-day life easier, and she could always receive emotional support from her best friend and roommate Ninoshkka, who sought the same from Gabrielle. They were roommates for most of their New School years, continued to rely on each other in France, and as Gabrielle proudly declared to me, "That's my sister."
When I asked Gabrielle what she misses about Paris, she mentioned Versailles, the beauty and calm of her Issy-les-Moulineaux neighborhood (just southwest of Paris's city limits), some of the food (though she maintains that Senegalese and Haitian cuisines are better), the grocery store clerk she would often share with whenever she made soup, and cheap nail and hair prices. As a member of the "BeyHive" and the "Ivy League", Gabrielle also cherishes being able to attend Beyoncé's Renaissance World Tour concert at Stade de France, where the singer's eldest daughter Blue Ivy performed as a dancer in the show for the very first time. "In that moment, seeing Blue Ivy do her thing just made me realize, like, I'm here. I'm in Paris... and I just shed some tears for myself, for the growth I've experienced from then to now." While Gabrielle wouldn't want to live in France again given France's colonialist history with Haiti and what she knows of how French society treats immigrants (even privileged American ones such as herself), she would still ideally return to France for a couple weeks to a month and do it with "a more bougie-er lifestyle", like she did for her 21st birthday trip to Paris.
As someone eager to finish her education in order to move on to bigger and better, Gabrielle met the requirements of what would have been a two-year program in only one year. She still has a few strings to tie up, but is basically done with her master's and moved back in with her folks in the DMV this summer. She currently writes music reviews and also works as a social media assistant, and is still trying to figure out her next steps as a freelance journalist in a fraught media landscape (which she describes as "purgatory"). She desires a life with more ease, and hopes to strike a balance between the freedom of freelancing and the financial stability of a salaried position. She also hopes to develop the courage to pursue her dual aspiration of being a musician.
Gabrielle wants to visit every country in the future, but mainly has in mind: Singapore, Haiti ("my motherland, my mother's land, my grandmother's land"), Colombia (which a Colombian friend has convinced her is a must), Canada (since it's right there), Mexico (again), and Italy (which she's been trying to get to since 2020 but her plans keep getting foiled). In the meantime, Gabrielle can be found via Instagram (@_.sunflxwer), Twitter (@__sunflxwer), and her music reviews on musicfashionblog.com.
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Episode 103 │ Amen. Asé. Purr. (PARIS)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!