Now, that my finals are done, it’s time for…duh-de-duh-da! Reflection time!
For those of you who have been accompanying me on this incredible journey, I hope you all had a blast! Well, if not, at least I hope you found it interesting. In the beginning, I can still recall how difficult it was for me to even communicate in a different language. School was hard enough as it was, but interacting with society every day was definitely the biggest challenge I faced.
That seems so silly. If talking and communicating are the hardest mountains I climbed, then my semester wasn’t really that hard, right? Well, it’s the exact opposite. If the act of speaking is that difficult, then everything else (that is deemed harder) becomes even more difficult. I started out as the worst French speaker (not going to lie) in my program. I’m the youngest by a good two years. I had the least amount of experience. I had the least amount of vocabulary. And, most of all, I had the least amount of confidence.
Despite the fact that I’ve felt like I’ve been in a twilight zone for
the past four months, my eyes have opened to reality. The girls in my program taught me a lot about myself and taught me a lot about change. I have learned how to feel confident. I have learned how to let loose. I have learned how to feel free. I have learned how to respect and appreciate what I have. I have learned how to grow up. Again, that seems really silly, but I don’t think I would have ever had my eyes open this wide if I had not come to France this year.
And I am so glad I did. It changed how I look at a lot of things. I find myself, now, thinking about how planned out my life is. The unexpected can change these plans as quick as a heartbeat. Did any of mine change, though? Maybe not, but my perspective did. People continuously ask me what experiences changed my perspective on life, yet how can I answer that when I can’t exactly point to the exact events? It was the act of being with a group of people who I could never understand for five weeks. It was struggling to keep up in a classroom of people who were evidently better than me. It was walking through the centre-ville and see dozens of people stare at shrines a month after the Paris attacks.
I’m not sure if my perspective has changed for better or for worse, and of course I hope it’s for the better. I don’t think I can walk back on campus and view everything the way I did before. I’ve been so emotionally and mentally impacted in ways that I never even thought were possible. I feel like I’ve been living in this tiny bubble that has protected me from everything scary in the world, and, now, finally I have been pinched. I can see the hatred of the world, yet I can see the beauty and excitement of it, as well. Therefore, I can honestly say that my friends might tell me that “there is something different about me.” Well, yeah, there is. That’s undeniable. I think I’ve grown up.
I’m going to miss it. After four months, I’ve developed a really strong relationship with the country. Unlike a lot of people who study abroad, I didn’t leave France just because I didn’t have the time. Yet, thanks to my classes, I learned so much about the history, the culture, and the society of France that I feel as if we’ve been dating. I’ve (sort of, but not really) blended in and have created relationships with my students at the high school I worked at. I broke down all my suspicions and (most of) the stereotypes I had about the French, which has really made me aware of how gullible I used to be when people told me, “The French are snobby.”
Even though there have been moments where I have been questioned, I have been incredibly welcomed by almost everyone I meet. I felt like a celebrity in my internship. I felt like a queen at Thanksgiving, when these children begged for me to take their pies. I felt cool when people found out I’m American.
Now, here’s the part that I know a lot of you have been waiting for: advice. How do you pick your own study abroad program? How do you decide it’s your perfect fit? How do you prepare for it? What do you need to do?
First, it’s important to choose a program that you want to do. Not what your parents want or what your resume wants. Because if you choose a country that happens to be the last place you want to be on Earth, you’re going to hate it because you’ll be there for about at least 5-10 weeks whether you like it or not. To be honest, I didn’t even want to come to France. Not because I hated it, but because I didn’t think I was ready. I also had less than zero confidence in my ability to speak French so I knew I was going to suffer when I got here. The thing is though that I don’t regret it because I knew that I was going to reach the end goal: to improve my French. The reason why I had never improved my French before was because I never really pushed myself until this program, where I was put into sink or swim situations with all eyes on me. Not fun, but this program did me so much justice.
And, secondly, plan out where you want to go and the sites you want to see. I think it’s important for you to understand that if you’re going to spend more than $5,000 on a study abroad program, you should probably be making the best use out of your time. This doesn’t mean going to Europe and partying every night, because if you’re successful academically (and continue to be), you will have more than enough opportunities to return and party every night. This also doesn’t mean ditching your school work to travel to England for three weeks when you’re studying in Italy for four months. People, too often, forget that they’re still in college and taking college-level classes: unless you have a desire to ail, I strongly advise that you work your travel experiences around your school schedule so you can both have fun and work hard simultaneously.
Anything else? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. Sorry that December is a slow month! I’m starting to get into that Christmas spirit, which just makes me happier that the year is almost over. Get ready for Reflection 2.0, which will happen sometime in the next week!
“The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments on this blog are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Office of International Education, the University of Georgia or any employee thereof. The University of Georgia makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on this blog and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.”