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Saturday, September 20, 2014

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Ann Arbor Affairs: Courting a campus

Illustration by Megan Mulholland
Illustration by Megan Mulholland Buy this photo

By Bethany Biron, Public Policy senior
Published February 11, 2013

In the final vignette of the film “Paris Je T’aime,” an American woman travels to Paris alone, eyes wide with awe and bewilderment as she wanders aimlessly through the City of Lights.

Her French is abysmal, and she hasn't fully grasped what she's doing there — all she knows is somewhere, hidden among the pastel-colored macaroons and the Arc de Triomphe, there’s something she has yet to find.

Sitting upon a park bench on the last day of her trip, the afternoon sun dancing whimsically across her face, she finally finds it. Her eyes begin to well with tears as she stares dreamily across the Parisian skyline, overcome with the realization that she is experiencing true love for the first time.

This particular scene resonates for me because I’ve been there. Not to Paris — to a similar looking bench in the Law Quad, upon which I too felt the unexpected warmth of adoration washing over me. This wasn’t the romantic type of love — with its intertwined hands, sweet nothings and coquettish grins — but the deep affection for a place, a landscape.

However, my relationship with Ann Arbor wasn’t love at first sight, as is the case with many great loves; it took time.

Our first date didn’t quite start off on the right foot. I didn’t feel any butterflies. I didn’t leave with a deep longing to return again. There were no sparks, no fireworks and certainly no bouquets of red roses.

When I returned to Columbus, Ohio during winter break of my freshman year, I wanted nothing more to do with Ann Arbor. I glanced at the University’s pamphlet sitting upon my old childhood desk, the beaming faces taunting me as if to say, “Look how much fun you should be having!”

Dissatisfied and disheartened, I began searching for other prospects, scouring the Internet for a better match, allured by the effervescent sunshine of University of California, Berkeley, the comfort and ease of Ohio State University. Never mind what their transfer rates were, I was hell-bent on finding my academic soul mate.

I returned to Ann Arbor in January and reluctantly agreed to let the city drag me on a second date. The second shot wasn’t much better than the first, but this time I felt the faint glimmer of belonging — of an institution dedicated to reinstating my diminished sense of purpose and drive. I slowly started to feel inspired again. I started writing. I made friends. Ann Arbor hadn’t knocked me head-over-heels, but I was flattered enough to stick around.

Our relationship endured, and the summer after sophomore year I found myself living in Ann Arbor completely alone for the first time in my life. My roommate left for her summer job as a camp counselor in northern Michigan, and our apartment for two suddenly dwindled into an apartment for one.

I decided to take the extra alone time to get to know Ann Arbor a bit more intimately — since we had made it this far, after all. I went on bike rides through the suburbs, spent hours thumbing through novels at Dawn Treader and traversed the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in search of the perfect tomato. Sometimes I analyzed art for entire afternoons at UMMA and then licked frosting off my fingers at The Cupcake Station after hiking in the Arb. Could it be that I was developing feelings?

One day in June, exhausted after cramming for an economics final, I walked out into the Law Quad and sat on that bench. A smile started to stretch across my face as I realized this town had won my heart. It had given me so many things to love. And, for the first time, I loved it back.