Many of you know that this isn’t my first time living in another country. Two years ago around this time, I left Tampa for Paris, France. I spent that spring semester living with a host family, exploring France and other countries, making friends, and fueling my desire to work abroad.
I started learning French in middle school, and more seriously in high school and college. I liked the idea of being able to communicate with more people in the world, and it actually motivated me to study abroad. “Why France?” you ask. “And especially, why Paris?” I’ll admit that Paris can seem like a cliché place to study abroad. It’s the most visited city in the world. Millions of people flock there each year to see the Notre Dame and the Sacre Coeur, the Louvre and the Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. So naturally, France is one of the hottest study abroad destinations. After going through the limited options offered by public universities in Florida, I was left with Paris (and what a great option it was).
Paris is the large, cosmopolitan, glamourous, and slightly bougie city that I’m sure you imagine it to be – but it’s also more. It’s hipster, dirty, and full of graffiti. It’s mostly cold and rainy, which was a shock for me. It’s full of amazing restaurants, parks and museums. Some of my favorite times were spent wandering around the various arrondissements, discovering new neighborhoods and trying foods that weren’t French. The common stereotype of the French (and especially Parisians) are that they’re cold and rude. Those people exist, but I rarely experienced this. The more effort I made to blend in and speak the language, the more people warmed up to me. For those of you who will go abroad at some point, I encourage you to not stick to the large group of “loud Americans.” It’s more rewarding, I promise.
Besides improving in a foreign language, the positive effects of studying abroad are limitless. I became much more self-reliant. As a result of not having a cell phone plan with data, I finally learned how to read a map. Also, just like with new situations in the U.S., you are made to put yourself out there more in social situations. Initially, I spent a lot of time alone because I was too nervous to go out. By making an effort to find conversation exchange events and meetup groups, I met people.
On a more current note, being a student in another country is vastly different from working in one. I didn’t have to deal with paying bills, setting up my internet and paying taxes in France. In a way, this makes me want to try living in France again to experience it from a new perspective.
*I recognize that there are plenty of people who might want to study abroad but can’t due to financial reasons. In a effort to share the many ways to explore new cultures from wherever you are, I will address some solutions in a future post.