Paris: A Study Abroad Perspective
PARIS: A STUDY ABROAD PERSPECTIVE
An Insight Into My Study Abroad Experience
I was 21 when I went to live in Paris, France for one year on my study abroad. Before I went, I read a lot of blogs about what the experience would be like, as ecstatic as I was terrified of the adventure to come. Truth is, your experience is going to be your own. I want to share with you mine.
I arrived to Paris in the chilly month of January, 2015. Students were encouraged to arrive on time to attend the program’s many orientations, but I arrived earlier than necessary. This was my second time to Paris, as I had gone on a memorable solo-trip seven months prior to visit the city. It was where I had dreamed of living since I was twelve years old. I could hardly wait to make it home.
The Adjustment Period
The first two months I lived in Paris were difficult. During those first months I felt absolutely lost. This is a gloomy season for Paris, quite rainy and cold. I got terribly sick for the first few weeks I was there and missed some social activities because I couldn’t get out of bed. Dealing with staying in the school-appointed hostel while searching for permanent housing was stressing me out. Making friends was a slow process. Getting accustomed to speaking French although I was always self-conscious. Learning the new cultural rules felt debilitating. I cried a lot, to myself, in bed, in the dark. This was the adjustment period.
Roma, Roma! - My first Trip
The first trip I went on outside of Paris was to Rome, at the end of February. I went with some fellow students who I didn’t really know well, but who shared my persistent yearning to go to Rome (thank you, Lizzie McGuire). This trip was a turning point for my study-abroad experience.
Suddenly I was in a different city, another place I’d always wanted go! We were only there for two and a half days, but I made the most of it. Staying in the dirtiest hostel I’ve ever stayed in, 8 euros a night for a bunk bed with blood and holes in the sheets (not kidding), eating gelato in the city streets, tossing coins in the Trevi fountain, posing in front of the Spanish Steps, seeing the Vatican City and the inside of the Sistine Chapel- I finally felt the magic that had been drawing me to Europe for so many years.
It was on this trip that I realized I could memorize the layouts of cities without needing a map. The first time a man in Europe flirted with me. I went off by myself for half a day and explored different parts of the city. I walked around the Coliseum at night. After this trip to Rome, I realized that I didn’t need to be fearful anymore. Yes, it is scary to live in a foreign country, but the excitement of being there did away with the fear. I was a changed female traveler.
The Student Experience
In addition to the thrills of finally making friends and discovering Paris’ night-scene, I also had to manage the academic side of “studying” abroad. University life in Paris is relaxed compared to what I was used to as a student in New York City. Classes occurred three or four days a week, for only a few hours each day. France is big on vacations, so it felt like every other week we were having a day off or even a week off, no questions asked!
Homework was scarce if at all assigned. Tests were usually specific re-caps of what had been said in class, so if you attended, for the most part, you would pass. Depending on which university you were at and which courses you were interested in taking, you had the option to be in a regular French class (with all French students) instead of the ones that were part of our program (geared for non-native French speakers). I chose to take easier courses because I shied from committing to a challenging regimen. Safe to say, I was more interested in having the time and accessibility to plan trips and travel as much as I could.
Travelin’ Wherever and Whenever
As April came around, I started planning trips. I went on a solo-trip to Brussels, Belgium. Later in the month, I went on a 10-day trip with a group of girls from my classes. We went to Stockholm, Sweden, Copenhagen, Denmark, and Dublin, Ireland and Ireland stole and ran away with my heart. By the end of May, when courses for that semester had finished and the entire summer was wide-open for me to plan, I decided to go on an epic solo-trip that would forever change my life.
I consider myself to be a fairly high-maintenance person, so I was wary of how I would do living out of one suitcase and traveling for 9 weeks on my own. I started in Spain, exploring Madrid and Barcelona, before jumping back up to London. Next up was again, Ireland, where I stayed for one month. I had an incredible time going around and staying in cities all over Ireland, I can’t recommend it enough. After that, I went to Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland. Next were three cities in Poland. Then Prague. Amsterdam. Three more cities in Belgium. Down to Venice, Verona, and Turin, in Italy. I took a ride share from Turin to Geneva, Switzerland, passing through Mont Blanc. From Geneva, at the end of August, I went back to Paris exhausted but happy and a different person. I had learned something invaluable.
To Love Myself
I credit to this massive solo-trip a change in perspective that deeply affected my life since. I’ve always had self-esteem issues. Moreso, I had great disdain for myself. I went to live in Europe thinking that I wasn’t beautiful enough to deserve love. At the end of that solo-trip, I saw myself in a completely different light. Suddenly I had gone and lived out the biggest dream I’d ever had in my life. I’d even fallen in love, and somebody had fallen in love with me. I’d been on my own on the road, nobody there to catch me if I fell, nobody to rely upon and nobody to pick me up again but myself. I planned everything myself, but more importantly, I did it myself, even though I was afraid to. From then on, I knew my own worth. I loved myself.
Returning to the States
Leaving Europe was deeply emotional for me. I felt, as I still do, a connection with the place unlike what I feel elsewhere. University courses wrapped up in early December. I went on more trips (naturally)- seeing more cities in France, Italy, Spain, and even Istanbul, Turkey. I’d made close friends and travel buddies, all over the world, and I would have stayed longer if I could have.
An available option for most post-study abroad students is to return to Paris to pursue a Master’s Degree, or else to teach English. There are many teaching programs available across Europe that pay decently and provide a purpose to live there. I know I will return to Paris many times in my life, eventually doing a teaching program, but nothing will replace the poignant memory of living there for that year of 2015.