France: Sitting Uncomfortably with my Privilege

Two weeks from today my flight will land in France, where I will be spending the next three years studying the art of scent design and creation as part of a joint master’s program engineered by IFF and ISIPCA.
Well shit.

In a lot of ways it would not be an exaggeration to say that this is a dream come true. Fragrance has been one of my passions for almost ten years now, during which time I’ve read so many blogs (daily), swapped with other perfume lovers, bought, sold, and smelled so many things. I’ve filled multiple notebooks with descriptions of scents and lists of notes. Every time I travel I’ve checked if there are any fragrance stores in the area.  I got the momentous opportunity to study with a natural perfumer in Italy, which led to my collaborating on a new friend’s South Africa-based startup.
In short, I have been- and continue to be- in love with the art of perfumery.

On top of that, I’ve been a francophile for at least as long. The style, the culture, the food, and so much else- I can’t get enough of. And when I went last year, for the first time, it felt like finding a place that fit me better than any place I had been before.

So why am I feeling so edgy and… well… bad?
I’ve found a way to do something I thought was impossible- to possibly make a career out of one of the things that I love the most.
I’ve gotten extremely lucky- and it’s this luckiness that I’m having a hard time sitting with.

It’s a privilege to have this opportunity, a privilege that I don’t deserve any more (and maybe not any less) than anyone else in this world. But still it’s mine. And I have worked hard for it, but I’ve been in a position to do so.

In a lot of ways, it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever accomplished on my own. Following a love on my own initiative and my own steam.

But the fact remains that I’m young and traveling, going off to another country- looking forward to shopping and eating pastries and going to art museums- to study a topic that a lot of people would say is pretty frivolous.
Mostly on my parents’ money.

And my family’s not wealthy, which makes it worse. My first year’s tuition is being paid for by the death of a very sweet elderly neighbor who I had known since I was a child- since we moved in when I was two. My parents are sacrificing things and my neighbor died and here I am “la di da la di da, *sniff* *sniff* croissants”
My neighbor lived in Chelsea her whole life. She spent a lot of her time in her armchair watching the travel channel or reading. When we visited she would refer to this time spent as her “armchair adventures”. I know she would be thrilled by what I’m doing.  But how is it fair that I’m going and she’s, well, dead?

Part of it is that I am from Chelsea. I’ve known so many people and had so many friends who didn’t have the money to go to college, who couldn’t depend on their parents for anything, even when they were legal dependents.

How is this for me?

And incidentally, I’m also leaving the US while the political climate is one I’d rather not deal with. For a country which just elected the more-liberal Emmanuel Macron rather than the Trump-adjacent Le Pen.  I have the privilege to be able to turn my back on American politics, even when I know that they’re going to cause some people, who are already oppressed, to suffer further.

I know France isn’t going to be all sunshine and puppies, and that I’m going to be working and studying… but being able to dream- and even more so being able to follow your dreams- is a luxury.

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