Excerpts from Olivia’s Paris Journal: Chapter I

I decided to apply to work in Paris on a whim, the same way I’ve made most of my best decisions. I was made aware of the application on a Thursday afternoon in October. Twenty minutes later I called my parents to tell them I’d decided to apply, and submitted my application on Monday morning. Four days after that I learned I had been accepted into the UNESCO fellowship program, and began trying to figure out if I could get a visa for my cat.

I wasn’t an expert on UNESCO when I applied, I trusted my gut. I knew UNESCO’s mission of peace and intercultural dialogue aligned well with the values driving my journalistic career goals, and that was good enough for me to decide to take a chance on life. I rolled the dice and bought a ticket to Paris.

Now, four months later, I’m writing to you from my desk at UNESCO World Headquarters in Paris, France. It’s the end of my second week on the job and my brain feels like it might explode — I am learning a million miles a minute! I’m earning credit toward my masters degree at the University of Oregon from afar, and spending my days preparing to launch a magazine that is published in nine different languages.

The UNESCO Courier, like most publications, is the product of incredible collaboration. But this one is multicultural and operating across language barriers and several different time zones and bureaucratic obstacles and still has been coming out strong for more than 70 years now. There are some days that I wonder if this collaboration is secretly witchcraft because it is hard to fathom how this team could accomplish so much any other way.

I have known I wanted to work in print journalism for a few years now, and have always been curious about magazine work, so this has been an extra special opportunity. I am learning to appreciate the pace and energy here that is very different than other publications I have worked for. And I am learning a lot about the digital strategies of a publication which is only printed four times a year.

Right now I am working directly with the Courier’s digital editor and have been doing tasks related to engagement, editing and formatting magazine content for the web, and strategizing how to bring the Courier to more people around the globe. It’s fun and challenging work, and it is never the same hour to hour.

UNESCO’s mission of peace is apparent on every page of the magazine, and every step along the way to publication, and that is my favorite part of the job. This issue of the magazine is focused around indigenous languages (as the United Nations declared 2019 the year of indigenous languages), and the communities that speak them. The magazine is full of stories that need to be told, and need to be read around the world, and I’m excited to be a part of making that happen.

Outside the UNESCO Fortress (note: this is not the official name of the building — it is just really, really big) and on my lunchtime walks, I have been dazzled by the first few blue skies in Paris since I’ve been here. Wow. I am used to dark, cold winters in Oregon, and the weather here has been very similar. (It is even more bearable when you get to see the Eiffel Tower several times a day.) But Paris is even dreamier under a blue sky and a hint of warm winter sunlight.

Last week I met an interesting French woman who invited me to her dance class. Although I would normally be inclined to say “thanks but no thanks,” I decided to go and try it out. I went last night and it was awesome! The other dancers were so welcoming to me– they even invited me out for burritos afterward! (If you know me, you know burritos are the fastest way to earn my friendship!)

I am soaking up every last minute in Paris, and journaling until my right hand aches every evening. I never did figure out how to get a visa for my cat, and I miss Mexican food (and my loved ones) more than words can say, but I am learning and growing. I want to remember this time in my life long after these few months run out.

Some small personal victories from the past few weeks:

  • I have been mistaken for a local several times by people asking for directions in French (I usually have to disappoint them by having terrible navigational sense and very elementary French skills, but I am still flattered that I look like I fit in here).
  • The girls from my French hip hop dance class added me to their group chat (which is entirely in French). I’m making friends and learning to dance and being able to understand more of this beautiful language every day.
  • While lost in one of the maze-like UNESCO buildings I discovered a gym. It is so old it looks like some Portland hipsters designed it as a vintage inspired gym on purpose. My exercise since I have been here has mostly consisted of lots of walking and a personal commitment to always take the stairs (yesterday I climbed 70 stories while exploring the city), and I am thrilled to have a space where I can do a bit more.
  • The Frida Kahlo poster I ordered for my office arrived yesterday! Photos to come in my next post.


Olivia R. Sanchez is a journalist and M.S. candidate at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. She can be reached by email at oliviarsanchez18@gmail.com or on Twitter at @OliviaRSanchez.

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